If you insist on calling your movie "Pearl Harbor", then you'd better be able
to justify the title by getting your priorities right. "Love, Longing And Tragedy
At Pearl Harbor", or something to that effect, describes the movie better. You
see, with a title like that, at least the audience would know what to expect.
What you expect is an attack on the harbor, after maybe a few preliminary intros with the characters involved. What you get is a hackneyed love-story that goes on forever, and it is only when the director sees that all further paths lead to dead-ends does he bring in the attack so his cootchie-coo love-story can get a move on.
Sad but true. It worked for Titanic since Cameron knew he needed to focus as much on the sinking ship as he did on Jack and Rose's magical encounters. It doesn't work for Pearl Harbor since Bay did not know, or chose to ignore that knowledge. The result is not a disaster-movie, but a movie just about averted from disaster by some superb special effects, amazing photography, brilliant action scenes and apt performances.
It is 1940, and Rafe McCawly (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) are best buddies and American bomber pilots. Rafe volunteers to go on a high-risk mission against the Japs, leaving behind a teary-eyed girlfriend Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale). News of Rafe's death shatters both Danny and Evelyn, and their grief brings them together. Just when things start looking up, Rafe returns. You see, he wasn't dead at all - memories of Evelyn gave him the strength to battle for life. If I weren't so bored, I would have laughed.
This takes ages to tell, but finally we do manage to arrive at the point. The
surprise attack at Pearl Harbor by the Japs is done with beautiful clarity of
vision and amazing special effects. This 35-minutes of the movie is so engrossing
an experience that it plucks you right out of your seat and puts you into that
time and place when more than 3,000 people were surprised into dying. And it is
in these 35-odd minutes that Pearl Harbor is a watchable movie.
The presence of Alec Baldwin and Jon Voigt in the roles of Colonel Dolittle and President Roosevelt add flavor and class to the second half. Affleck, Hartnett and Beckinsale do what they are supposed to, but fail to make you care enough about their personal fates. Cuba Gooding Jr makes a brief appearance in the role of a navy-cook looking to be accepted in the all-white American Navy. Everyone gives good, sturdy performances, but the slack script and those uninspired dialogues fail to do justice to the performers. Surely we could have done without the clichés and dialogues like "there's nothing stronger than the heart of the volunteer".
The theme of tragedy - personal losses or surprise attacks - is one with the potential
to arouse tremendous interest in audiences all over. By refusing to go under the
skin of all the tragedies that occur in the movie and satisfying himself with
superficial melodrama and special effects (first-rate, yes, but still only special
effects), Michael Bay makes an expensive error of judgement. Watch this 3-hour
movie for the few minutes of brilliance, but you'd do well to leave any expectations
of historic insights or real entertainment behind.