Runtime: 3 Hours
and 3 Minutes
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,
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
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!