Pearl Harbor

Stars:   Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, Jon Voight
Director:   Michael Bay
Writer:    Randall Wallace

Pearl Harbor is as spectacular as the trailers led us to believe it would be … at least its bombing raids are spectacular. The romantic elements, while serviceable, are not the stuff that makes for a memorable or great film. Pearl Harbor will only be remembered for its superb action sequences thanks to producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s influence and director Michael Bay. If you’re looking for wartime romance, rent the classic “From Here to Eternity”, a beautifully made film with complex characterizations or “Casablanca”.

Here, Ben Affleck is asked to hold up a lead performance in a blockbuster when he simply doesn’t have the acting ability or charisma to give his part the magnetism needed to pull it off. He plays Rafe McCawley, a Tennessee corn boy, who along with childhood best friend Danny Walker (Hartnett) join the U.S. Army Air Corp to become hero pilots. Rafe meets pretty nurse Evelyn Johnson (Beckinsale, a poor woman’s Katherine Hepburn lookalike) in a humorous induction sequence and a heavy romance ensues. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is engaged in World War II with the U.S. hanging back and ticking everyone off. Rafe volunteers to fly with the British airforce and does a bang-up job until he’s shot down and presumed dead. That gives best friend Danny now a chance to discover love and rapture in the arms of Evelyn. Not very believable, sorry. And there’s this real touchy business about Rafe being dead and how guilty they both feel … until, you guessed it, Rafe shows up. He wasn’t really dead after all. He’s back and he’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.

But hold that thought because here come the big bad Japanese, 350 planes in all on a beeline to Pearl Harbor. And so begins an exceptional, effects-laden bombing sequence that will have you holding your breath as it depicts all the mayhem and horror of the surprise attack that was carried out on that early Dec. 7th morning in 1941. When the hospital starts filling up with dozens of critically injured men, you can feel the confusion and fear of the nurses. And when one of them blurts out “I don’t know what to do” you really do empathize with her. So many men lost. If anything, you get a good sense of how ill prepared the United States was for anything remotely resembling war on its homefront.

Up till now, the film was just biding time, mostly just pretty people with pretty smiles, pretty pictures, sunsets and breezes and a few salty tears for the presumed dead Rafe. At least now, with the bombing, your interest is piqued!

Lotta says: It’s a big picture without the big talent to match it. I liked Josh Hartnett. He’s got the smoldering good looks of a lead and the kind of qualities found lacking in Affleck. Beckinsale does a decent job but she doesn’t have real magic. Alec Baldwin as Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and Cuba Gooding playing “Dorie” Miller, one of the first blacks to be decorated for action are very nice additions. Jon Voight is barely recognizable playing a gravelly voiced President Franklin D.Roosevelt and getting the best lines, to be sure. His hoisting himself out of his wheelchair in defiance to his military advisers who said the U.S. could do nothing to retaliate against the Japanese was a bit much. If he had taken a few miracle steps, it might have played to better effect. Still, Pearl Harbor’s a good bet to be a blockbuster at the box office opening weekend and beyond. Bottom line: I enjoyed it, but great, it is not.

Also features: Colm Feore as Admiral Kimmel And Dan Aykroyd as Captain Thurman

Reviewed 5/26/01