Pearl Harbor

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 3 Hours and 3 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: B

Yes, I succumbed. But, hey, at least I waited till DVD. At least that way I didn't contribute to its box office success. And what did I find when I finally surrendered to the film? I found that I actually, in a sneaky sort of way that I'm not especially proud of, liked it.

"Pearl Harbor" was a movie that I was certain would bother the hell out of me. So I was more than a little shocked to discover that I enjoyed quite a lot of it. It does contain its fair share of cornball elements. More than its fair share, actually. It has a guy who is assumed to be dead returning when everyone has given up hope. It has some really cheesy lines. It has some frustrating moments. But it's also a lot more rewarding and emotionally gripping than one might initially suspect. I actually gave a shit about whether some of these people lived or died (though that had nothing to do with the script, it was mostly due to the charisma which people brought to their roles). I was moved almost to tears on more than one occasion. Probably due to the fact that the most horrible incidents in this film actually happened.

Yes, a dog does survive the attack on "Pearl Harbor". Yes, FDR does stand up to deliver a speech. Yes, there is a guy with a stutter. But you know what? The dog thing isn't dwelt on.
The thing with FDR isn't at all as lame as the way I heard it was done. The guy with the stutter was captivating. (Hey, I rooted for the guy with the stutter to get the hot chick. How could I not? Like there's something wrong with that? And, by the way, people do stutter in reality! It happens! Just because a guy has a speech impediment does not automatically make Jar Jar Binks, you cynical bastards! Lay off! And the way his face conveys his frustration and despair with his inability to talk straight during a couple key moments of the film really moved me in a subtle way. In fact, he was one of my favorite characters and I cared what happened to him at all moments in the film.) Oh, and as far FDR standing up? We of later generations know that he was bound to a wheelchair. We accept it as fact. But you have to understand that, in those days, the American public weren't supposed to know about it. It was felt that a crippled president would not have as much respect. In those days, the press did everything they could to accommodate him and keep the facade up for the benefit of the country. Yes, he was made to look as though he could stand, most likely with the help of braces on his legs.
So I had no qualms with that part at all. And I liked Jon Voight's performance as FDR quite a bit. I would never have known it was him if no one had told me.

Sure, Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character comes out of nowhere. But his character was a real person who was actually there. And it does help establish the fact that there were more than just the three main characters involved in these incidents and events. He is very good in this film. I liked him. He wasn't as good as he was in "Men of Honor" or "Jerry Maguire", but he had a quiet dignity that I really dug. Speaking of the supporting actors, I thought Alec Baldwin was ferocious and gruff and generally a rough delight as General Dolittle. He was a welcome treat.

And what of the main actors? Cut them some slack! I was quite happy with Ben Affleck in this movie. He gives a solid, commanding performance that works quite well. Some of his dialogue really sucks, but that ain't entirely his fault. I would blame the screenwriter, but we'll come around to that. Josh Hartnett is very natural in this film, as is Kate Beckinsale. The three leads do a good job with what little they have been given. I admired them all.

And the dialogue. Yes, much of it does suck. But, think about it for a moment. Have you ever been in love? Have you really? It makes you do and say really corny things. No, it really does. Lines like "I'll never see another sunset without thinking of you" aren't great writing. But they do have a certain ring of truthfulness to them. When you are in love, truly in love, obsessed with someone, you lose all sense of normalcy and you do and say things that you wouldn't ordinarily. Most of Affleck's dialogue in his love letters is pretty corny, but that doesn't make it seem any less genuine. It's not great writing, but it does seem like what a guy in his emotional state would say. And many have groaned at the line "I think World War Two just started". But think it over for a second. There had already been a World War One. I think they even called it that as it was going on. And we live in a culture where everything gets labeled "the beginning of World War Three", why the hell wouldn't someone who was dodging Jap bombs say that it was the start of a second global conflict? I think he would. It didn't bother me.

And that is what I really am getting at. The dialogue may not have been Shakespeare, and it certainly could have been better considering that it came from a man who had been nominated for an Oscar, but it didn't bother me immensely. The structure was a bit sloppy, I'll grant you that. But the film breezed by and never bored me. There wasn't a moment that stopped the film dead in its tracks. There wasn't a moment that bothered me more than any others. There is actually some good acting. The production design of the film is absolutely gorgeous. It's a bit glossy, but then it does shift into darker hues and grittier textures when the attacks are happening. Michael Bay has actually gained some competence as a filmmaker since the dreadful "Armageddon". He's actually seemed to learn a thing or two about staging a sequence and generating emotions and moods onscreen. I was, I'll admit it, subtly impressed.

The Pearl Harbor sequence, aside from its technical wizardry and probably because of it, is genuinely harrowing. It reminded me of the beginning of "Saving Private Ryan" and the end of "Titanic" and it generates almost as much emotional impact. Oh, hell, it DOES generate as much impact on a visceral level. If we had been more invested in more of the characters, it would have hit us even harder. But, personally, if it had hit me any harder, I doubt I could have taken it. I wanted a little more out of the Dolittle raid, but by then the picture had actually gripped me. I cared.

And there is the bottom line. The dialogue often sucks. There are a lot of corny elements.
And the characters could have been fleshed out with a bit more skill. But after the execrable "Bad Boys" and the disappointing "Armageddon", this film is definitely a step in the right direction. The beginning sucks, and there are maybe one too many moments where the film bears a resemblance to "Top Gun", but this is a better film than that one. It has better characters, better goals for its main characters, cooler planes, and it's about more than just Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer working through Freudian penis-envy issues.

Is it "Titanic"? No. Certainly not. Is it "Saving Private Ryan"? Again, not quite. But it's better than "The Thin Red Line". It's better than "The Messenger". It's better than "Independence Day". It's better than ANY Seventies disaster film. And it's definitely better than I thought it would be. Granted, I did think it would be a giant, flaming turd. But I was pleasantly surprised. It's no "A+" or anything, but I can't see why the critics despised this and then lauded "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back".

I mean, Jesus!