stars out of 5
Massive scale, over-hyped blockbuster from Michael ‘Armageddon’ Bay – a huge steaming pile of cheese with an admittedly spectacular central sequence that is ultimately worth the price of admission.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay are no strangers to
flashy, big-budget action-packed blockbusters, having previously
collaborated on Armageddon. As such, Pearl Harbour borrows freely from past successes and delivers everything you’d expect, namely massive explosions, an overly emotive score and thinly drawn central characters.
As with Titanic, the film-makers have chosen to set a fictional romance
against the background of a real-life tragedy. Here we have best friends Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), who both fall in love with nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale). Initially it’s Rafe that wins her heart, but when he’s reported killed in action while flying missions in Europe, Evelyn gradually begins to fall for Danny, only for Rafe to reappear.
However, before they can sort out their romantic entanglements, there’s the small matter of a devastating surprise attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbour to contend with…
Pearl Harbour has already come in for a massive critical trouncing in the U.S. and is likely to receive the same here. Indeed, it’s impossible to defend against all the charges levelled against it. For a start, the script is appalling, ladling cliché upon cliché and occasionally forcing the actors to deliver such atrocities as Kate’s unintentionally casual dismissal of the bombing with the phrase "And then all this happened…".
Secondly, the film is way too long – it takes forever to set up the central story and unwisely concentrates on the love-triangle instead of the actual history behind the events of Pearl Harbour, which it relegates to a few scenes of the Japanese commanders and a number of Washington-based scenes involving Dan Ackroyd and an unrecognisable Jon Voight giving a superb performance as Roosevelt.
Other potentially interesting subplots are also neglected, notably Cuba Gooding Jnr as Dorie Miller, one of the few real-life characters in the film and one of the first black men to be honoured for bravery (although in reality the award was posthumous).
Finally, the third act of the film is given over to the Doolittle raid over Tokyo, which, though equally fascinating, over-balances the impact of the Pearl Harbour sequences.
In addition to the above, there are some horrendously cheesy scenes, perhaps the worst of which involves a character dying on a cross-like structure. Similarly, the film blatantly rips off several other blockbusters, to the point where you can practically tick off the scenes (the boat tipping over from Titanic, the camaraderie and stunt-flying from Top Gun, the ricocheting bullet noises from Saving Private Ryan and so on).
Of the actors, Beckinsale comes off best: she looks stunning and somehow makes even her corniest dialogue seem forgivable. Affleck is less fortunate – he mostly appears to be acting with his chin. Hartnett’s character, by contrast, feels under-drawn, and as such, we never really care about the romance angle of the film – Evelyn could end up with either one of them and it never seems to matter which one.
The supporting performances, however, are much better, with Voight the stand-out, and good work from Ewan Bremner (who must be tired of stuttering characters by now), Tom Sizemore (who must
be tired of tough sergeant characters by now), Alec Baldwin (as Colonel
Doolittle) and the various actresses playing the nurses.
The film isn’t completely without merit, however. For one thing, it clearly illustrates just how unprepared the Americans were for the attack, although the scene in which Evelyn awakens from a nap to discover the raid in full-swing is a little too much. Also, it doesn’t skimp on the aftermath of the attack, showing the full effect of the devastation and the scale of the casualties involved.
Finally, it has to be said that the attack itself is brilliantly filmed, to the point where you’ll have trouble telling the CGI effects from the real thing. The battle lasts approximately 40 minutes and climaxes with a thrilling sequence in which the pilots desperately race to get into the air. This is truly spectacular.
Ultimately, then, Pearl Harbour isn’t quite the disaster it’s been made out to be. It’s cheesy, patronising, overly-simplistic and jingoistic, but it also looks fabulous, is never boring and has a stunning central action sequence. On balance, worth seeing.