Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Movie Review: "Pearl Harbor" (2001)

Director: Michael Bay
Year: 2001
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 3 hours, 3 minutes

Two pilots and lifelong best friends have a falling out over a woman just before they are forced back together due to the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
"Rafe, you died. So did I." (Image Source)
All's fair in love and war, including taking advantage of a situation when people are at their most vulnerable. "Pearl Harbor" is directed by Michael Bay, who has directed movies like "Armageddon," "The Rock," and "Bad Boys." It is written by Randall Wallace, who has worked on other wartime films like "Braveheart" and "We Were Soldiers." If you couldn't guess from the title, this movie is about a love triangle between three beautiful people...wait, what? Yes, you read that right! This movie happens during the attack on Pearl Harbor and is set in the months leading up to and following the attack itself, but really, this is a story of love and betrayal, and we don't mean the one about how Japan betrayed America and attacked us that fateful day in December 1941. Instead, it's about two lifelong best friends named Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), who have both always dreamt of becoming pilots. The two have grown up together, and each of them has fulfilled their dream. Rafe has become one of the best pilots in the military. He falls in love with a nurse named Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale), who also falls in love with him. Rafe eventually ships out to England to help with the fight against Germany in Europe. He is thought to be killed in action a short time later. After a couple of months have passed, Evelyn is ready to put her pictures safely in a book in her drawer and has said her goodbyes to Rafe. Luckily, Rafe's best friend Danny begins to look after her and starts to fall in love with her himself. And wouldn't you know it, Rafe wasn't dead after all!! Now, his best friend is dating the love of his life. Of course, running in the background of one of the messiest situations in Hollywood is the lead-up to a pesky little assault on Pearl Harbor, the attack itself, and its aftermath. Also, there is a small subplot about an African American Navy cook (Cuba Gooding Jr.) literally fighting for respect, but who cares? THE PEOPLE WANT MOAR SMOULDERING BEN AFFLECK!!!
"Leave your goddamn hula shirts at home." (Image Source)
Let's talk about what does work in "Pearl Harbor" first because there are a couple of great things about this movie. What does work are the scenes focused on Japan's preparation for their attack, the American intelligence/military trying to decipher the mishmash of messages being sent out of Japan, as well as the politics of deciding what they should do about it all. The action scenes themselves are excellent and have held up well over time. Michael Bay is known for his over-the-top, overly indulgent explosions full of mayhem and mania, and he provides just that in a grandiose display of carnage and destruction. The battle sequences are quite the spectacle and are very exciting while they last, even if Bay does fudge a few (read: several) facts in order to generate more unnecessary drama. Though it seems like more of an afterthought to the overall story, Cuba Gooding Jr.'s fight for respect is the most interesting human plot going on in the film, and we wish there would have been more of it.
"The rise and fall of our empire is at stake." (Image Source)
Now, let's get to what doesn't work. Pretty much anything involving the combination of Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Beckinsale is ridiculously stupid. Their entire romance feels so unnecessary in terms of the overall story, and it detracts from everything else going on. It's like Michael Bay wanted this film to be his "Titanic," which is famous for its love triangle, so of course, that meant "Pearl Harbor" had to have a love triangle as well. It's like he was hoping that by including this subplot, he could appeal to multiple demographics across the board for maximum profit. There can be a little drama and romance for those who like that sort of stuff, mixed with a little action and a couple explosions for the crowds who like excitement and tension, sprinkled in with some military preparation and jargon for hardcore history fans. Instead, Bay settles for losing two-thirds of the audience because of his horrible slog of a forced romance. Audiences have to wade through mounds and mounds of melodrama to get to the meat and potatoes of the story. Another problem is that the movie is just too goddamn long. It worked for "Titanic," not so much for this. There isn't enough necessary story to fill its excessive runtime properly, though overly long movies are pretty much par for the course when it comes to Michael Bay. With some editing and a bit of a refocusing on anything other than the romance, "Pearl Harbor" had the potential to be a good movie. Unfortunately, it just winds up being a sporadically-cool-but-mostly-over-bloated-mess.

My Rating: 4/10
BigJ's Rating: 4/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.1/10
RT Rating: 25%
Do we recommend this movie: No.

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