director: michael bay
ben affleck, kate beckinsale, josh hartnett
they say, repeats itself twice, the first time as tragedy, the second as
farce. War movies, by that logic, repeat themselves three times: the first
time as propaganda, the second as docudrama, the third as melodrama. Michael
Bayís fantastically-hyped epic, Pearl Harbor, falls largely into
the third since, as history, itís a farce, and a tragic one at that. From
moment to moment, it can be any of the three, a great beast of a movie
without a note of subtlety or artfulness.
In an attempt to re-make Titanic, Bay and his producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, probably felt lucky to find a story with not one, but several sinking ships, and great costumes to boot. Pearl Harbor, ultimately, feels like a Frankenstein monster of a film, a lumbering ghost of previous films, with the fighter pilot love triangle taken from the silent classic Wings, the sneak attack from the 1970 docudrama Tora, Tora, Tora, and the revenge attack that gives the story itís upbeat heroic finale from Thirty Seconds over Tokyo.
As the lovers caught in the whirlwind of history, Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale could have used some of the special effects that make the actual Japanese attack -- a chaotic forty-minute sequence that justifies the filmís existence -- so brutally real. Certainly, thereís no hint of a real spark between the three of them, as every line they utter is as shopworn as the heroic bilge assigned to Alec Baldwin as General Doolittle. The only special effect that doesnít work is the false chin Jon Voight dons to play President Roosevelt, a prosthetic that makes him look like a talking thumb.
Unable to let the film end with the American humiliation after the attack, Bay sends Hartnett and Affleck off with Doolittle on the famous, suicidal bombing raid on Tokyo. Itís a strange, cynical decision that makes you wonder if Bay and Bruckheimer felt obliged to keep up the spirits of ďthe folks on the home frontĒ. After the up-close carnage of Pearl Harbor, with bodies perishing in blood and oil and fire, the Tokyo raid is seen from above, without a hint of Japanese casualties. Itís a pointless and cowardly move that does no justice to the reality of war, or the memory of its survivors.