This $135 million movie is a bewildering mishmash of bad and almost good.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

You may not know that the significance of the bombing of Pearl Harbor was that it provided the backdrop for a romantic triangle. This fact is made clear in a little over three hours in the new movie of the same name. When Hollywood aspires to substance, it believes that audiences can take their history only in small doses. In Pearl Harbor, it gives us some good history, but it also gives us a lot of distracting pap. Remember the two windblown lovers standing on the prow of the Titanic? That mind-set prevails.

This $135 million movie is a bewildering mishmash of bad and almost good. First wrong note: a group of nurse lieutenants in heavy makeup that looks like a lineup of tarts delivered for the pleasure of the sailors. They giggle and flirt with great exaggeration, readying us for the time that history will force them to reach for their serious selves. In a terrible beginning, Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale) welcomes Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) to the Army Air Corps with some silly shenanigans involving inoculations in their rear ends. These three become the triangle that dwarfs the war.

After 90 minutes of their saga, the film begins to hit its marks. America has cut off delivery of oil to Japan, leaving that country with an 18-month supply. Admiral Yamamoto's decision: "We will annihilate their Pacific fleet." When someone reminds the admiral that he is brilliant, Yamamoto replies, "A brilliant man would have found a way without war." Now there's a theme that could have made a real movie.

Meticulously gathering intelligence, Yamamoto finds that the Americans have grouped their ships and planes closely in Pearl Harbor to ensure their protection. An entire fleet is at anchor, prey to Yamamoto's surprise attack. While President Roosevelt (Jon Voight) is trying to find the silent Japanese fleet as it steams toward Hawaii, Japanese fighters carrying aerial torpedoes begin the slaughter from just above ground level.

Pearl Harbor becomes a mass grave for the Pacific fleet. As they did in 1941, hospitals, ships, and planes explode, and three thousand people die; but Hollywood, as it did in the war movies of the forties, uses surprising restraint when it comes to showing graphic human carnage. The hard reality of history needs no enhancement by special effects.

It is undeniably moving to watch a reenactment of the day America grew up. When the movie stays on this level, it is affecting despite its flaws. When it jumps into the love triangle, as it does relentlessly, we must watch the contemporary-style soap opera with Affleck, Hartnett, and Beckinsale. It's not that they're bad, but that they have not been able to shed their contemporary selves for lives as pilots and nurses in 1941 and 1942. Not for one moment do we believe that any of them took part in the history we are watching. It doesn't help that the script forces them to talk in a torrent of cliches. Where are you, Tom Hanks?

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Rating : PG-13
Studio : Touchstone Pictures
Running Time : 3h3m

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