This "Pearl" Gave Some Poor Oyster Hemorrhoids
The horrors of war are nothing compared to the horrors of a broken heart.
May 25, 2001, a day that will forever live in infamy. A day on which director Michael Bay released his latest assault on the senses. A day in which producer Jerry Bruckheimer makes yet another calculated attempt to release the blockbuster of the summer.
"Pearl Harbor" begins in 1923, in rural Tennessee. We meet Rafe and Danny, two great friends who have dreams of fighting in the war. Flash forward to early 1941. Rafe and Danny (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) are training with Doolittle (Alec Baldwin) at an airfield on Long Island. Rafe and Danny should be about 30 at this point, but Rafe comments that he is 25. During a physical, Rafe falls in love with Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), a nurse. Naturally, Evelyn falls for Rafe. He is, after all, a dyslexic fighter pilot who folds origami swans. I'm not kidding. Rafe accepts a position with an elite flyer squadron in England and leaves Danny and Evelyn together. They are soon transferred to Hawaii. Flash forward to December 5, 1941, Rafe…
Oh, enough of the ludicrous love story Bay, Bruckheimer and writer Randall Wallace have perpetrated on the public. Be warned. They make you, me, us, sit through 90 minutes of the melodrama before the actual attack. Throughout the film, we are occasionally 'treated' to voiceovers by Evelyn and Rafe reading their letters to each other. Fingernails on a chalkboard.
Memo to Ben Affleck: Take your copy of the book "Facial Expressions for Every Occasion for Every Actor" with you to the next film. The audience should not laugh when you are trying to convey that your character is hurt.
Each of the characters is surrounded by a group of stereotypes. Unfortunately, they each have one or two moments, not nearly enough to help them become memorable. The stuttering fighter pilot has a moment of comedy. The young nurse with the big glasses is just amazed at the size of the world. The pretty nurse is a tramp. And so on.
Cuba Gooding Jr., Colm Feore, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore and others pop up in what amount to extended cameos. Gooding Jr. thrusts his chin out. Feore is wasted. Voight and Baldwin make the most impact. What a waste.
These fine actors are wasted because the entire film, all three hours of it, is about Rafe, Danny and Evelyn. Remarkably, Bay makes even the Pearl Harbor attack about them. The attack takes place and we watch planes attack ships, airfields, people. We watch ships sink. We watch torpedoes do their job. Throughout, Rafe and Danny are racing to an airfield, to find a plane to use. They manage to get into the air and shoot down seven planes. Evelyn rushes to the hospital and has to decide who gets help. After the battle is over, Evelyn and Rafe have 'the talk' which you have been expecting for some time. Evelyn says that she didn't know Rafe would come back. "Then you came back on the 5th and all of this happened." The 'this' she is referring to is the attack on Pearl Harbor. The attack when much of the Pacific fleet was disabled. The attack when many people died. But it sure inconvenienced her love life.
The attack sequence has some impressive shots, but ultimately it fails to conjure any emotion. Because we know so little about any of the characters, we don't really feel a lot of emotion for them. A couple of things are mentioned, rather than shown, robbing the film of some heart-wrenching sequences. Film is a visual medium. Don't describe an action.
There is one thing I am thankful to Michael Bay for. He has slowed down the editing a bit. "Armageddon" was a collection of five second shots, strung together to form a narrative. In "Pearl Harbor", he slows the editing down, but he still edits far too much. As soon as he shows someone, he gives us only a few moments to get used to them, before cutting to another angle of the same person. Let us live with the character for a few moments, Michael. Give us a chance.
Also, we have no sense of place in the film. Where did the planes come from? How did everything happen?
This film is already being compared to and critiqued against "Saving Private Ryan" and "Titanic". It wants so bad to be both films. The comparison to "Ryan" is evoked by the Pearl Harbor attack. As I mentioned, it has some impressive moments, but it is nowhere near as memorable as the opening of "Ryan". "Ryan" was rated 'R' and stained our memories with blood and gore. "Pearl Harbor" is rated PG-13 and has to show restrained images. The difference between the two? One battle looks real. One battle looks like a film. "Titanic" was an epic film, using a romance as a door into a historical event. The two central characters are real, alive and we care for them. None of the characters in "Pearl Harbor" appears this real and therefore we don't care about the romance. It is merely filler.
"Pearl Harbor" is just not very good. Judging by the reaction of the audience I saw the film with, I am not alone in my opinion. People actually booed at the end. People laughed when Rafe realizes the truth about Evelyn. Many people didn't like this film. If you are looking for a good film, go to "Shrek", "Moulin Rouge" or "Memento" instead.