CAST

Ben Affleck
Josh Hartnett
Kate Beckinsale
Cuba Gooding Jr.
Ewen Bremner
William Lee Scott
Jennifer Garner
Alec Baldwin
Jon Voight
Tom Sizemore
DIRECTED BY

Michael Bay
PURCHASE

Movie
Soundtrack
Book
Poster
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"Returning from the dead wasn't all that I expected...but that's life."
Time: 183 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Official Website
Genre: Action/Romance/Drama

Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song, Visual Effects, Sound and Sound Effects Editing.
Bay and Bruckheimer deserve high praise for the horrifyingly realistic recreation of the epic battle that changed America forever. The fear, pain and terror experienced by our soldiers in this surprise attack is devastating to watch. The heroic and selfless acts performed to save their fellow serviceman, an honor to watch. Which makes the rest of the film surrounding these events seem even more ridiculous and shallow, especially the love triangle. Clearly, the filmmakers needed to create fictional characters to represent those who lived during that time, to give the audience people they could relate too. Unfortunately, they are all caricatures of that time and place. Not one of them seemed real, all speaking in overly sentimental dialogue that chokes on its own urgency. The characters played by Affleck, Hartnett and Beckinsale are composites from many different stories from that time...and boy, does it show. Not a moment between them seems genuine.

It's all constructed to reap the maximum amount of emotion in the least amount of time. They've reduced one of the most poignant and unsettling times in our history into a cheap soap opera. The film begins with unabashed earnestness and patriotism and cranks it up from there. Heroism is inherent in this tale, injecting more at every turn is annoying and makes the characters even more one-sided. Affleck and Hartnett are branded heroes before they do anything to deserve the title. Just because they can fly fighter planes like nobody's business doesn't mean they have what it takes to be a valued soldier. In fact, every time they open their mouths, they prove they don't. It's not until the attack on Pearl Harbor that we're able to judge for ourselves whether they deserve the title. To judge by their actions, they are, but that's merely because the film creates situations for them to excel. Apparently, their shooting down several Japanese planes really did happen, so that's one thing they didn't dream up to make them appear brave and honorable.

Beckinsale has the dubious honor of being the love interest to both, which is a real shame for a woman as talented as this. Apparently, their farm boy charms worked some sort of mojo on her I missed. I'm sure somewhere on the planet, her story – fall in love with one soldier who's presumed dead, but resurfaces after you've been impregnated by his best friend – actually happened, but it's just overkill here. Not to mention the fact that she and Hartnett have absolutely no chemistry whatsoever. He's a child compared to Ben and despite his and Beckinsale's shared pain at the apparent loss of Affleck, it just wasn't believable that she'd fall in love with him. For them to have us swallow that Hartnett is her true love is equally untenable, not to mention completely ridiculous. It also makes her character one of the most shallow on record. I understand it was wartime and people were forced to move on in the wake of a loved ones death, but this is too much, too soon. One night of passion sure, the rest of your life, despite the baby, I don't think so.

It's also a terrible shame that Cuba Gooding's character is lost among the romantic shuffle. He plays a true life hero Dorie Miller – an African American cook who takes the battle into his own hands – who's relegated to a side note. The armed forces didn't treat these men very well at the time, placing them in subservient positions. Clearly, the filmmakers didn't want to open that can of worms, so they threw the black community a bone by including Miller's acts of bravery on December 7th. What makes his story remarkable is that he'd never fired a weapon before that morning, yet helped take down several kamikaze fighter planes. Now that's a character I can stand behind. Of course, you don't learn this during the film. For that info, you have to watch the DVD extras. Despite Beckinsale's fickle heart, the nurses come off fairly well here. They truly played a significant part in saving many lives that fateful morning.

Though the final third of the movie dramatizes an important, if somewhat suicidal, mission, I found by that point, I really didn't care anymore. The attack sequence on Pearl Harbor is so overwhelming and powerful, our little moral strike on a few munitions plants in Japan just didn't seem big enough to be worth the sacrifice. Granted, we get them back in a big way 4 years later, but that knowledge doesn't help. It seems that Bay, et al., decided we, the audience, would thirst for blood, demanding retaliation for the losses we suffered. What I felt, more than anything, was sadness and fatigue. I needed redemption, but not at the expense of more lives. Of course, if they don't go, we miss Alec Baldwin's rousing speeches and the love triangle becomes a complicated mess. I know this was a real mission and I'm proud these men made the effort, it just doesn't have a point being included here.

After seeing the trailer, I was sure Bay blew his special effects wad. I've never been more wrong. The physical maelstrom he recreates is truly awesome in scope and expertise. I have rarely been so captivated by a motion picture as I was in those 45 minutes. The special effects team who worked on this film deserve every award there is. I feel like I truly have an understanding of what it was like to be alive in that moment at that place. It makes the mind reel. Bay again proves a sure hand at action. He just doesn't seem to know what to do with the people that take part in it. He manuvuers them through the film like paper dolls – go here, do this – never for a minute bothering to make them seem like living, breathing human beings. The reason classic action films like DIE HARD and DIRTY HARRY survive the passage of time is because they have well-defined characters that audiences can relate to.

PEARL HARBOR should have been the piece that finally merged Bay's action nature with human emotions. Instead, he hides behind the special effects, making a visually stunning, but emotionally bankrupt movie. It's ARMAGEDDON all over again. Though I had problems with the love story in TITANIC, at least it felt genuine. Here, it's nothing but manipulative and mopey. Even Affleck is better than this tripe. Clearly, Bay is trying to evoke an old-fashioned feel. What he ends up with is hokey and tired. Watch this film for a gripping look at a seminal event in America's past. Whether you want to sit through the other 2 hours is up to you, especially if you have the DVD. Believe me, you won't care more for the characters if you do.