If Fox’s 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora! was a little too academic and dry, then Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor is simply all wet. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve rarely seen a movie find more ways to put the wrong foot forward. The tacked-on romantic triangle makes Titanic look like Jane Austen and Shakespeare combined. The historical accuracy is slightly more suspect than O.J. Simpson. The special effects turn one of the most solemn moments in American history into a video game.
As if it matters, the first part of this story deals with an American pilot (Ben Affleck) who falls in love with a Navy Nurse (Kate Beckinsale), then runs off to fight with the British against the Germans. When he’s reported killed, his childhood friend (Josh Hartnett) comforts her, then winds up shagging her. Ben Affleck turns up alive, the two friends fight and then the Japanese attack. Did I miss anything?
The heart of this movie, the actual attack on the American naval base, takes its sweet time to get here and then has less fidelity to the facts than your average politician. At least the folks behind Tora! Tora! Tora! did their homework, but it’s like Bay and company couldn’t be bothered, even down to annoying things like showing both the Japanese aircraft and Doolittle’s B-25s launching from an aircraft carrier with a modern angled deck. With all of the money spent on special effects, was it too much trouble to make the ships look accurate for World War II? The filmmakers cynically assume the audience won’t care and, under those circumstances, I can’t really be bothered to care much about the rest of the movie.
Ben Affleck takes a lot of grief for his gifts as an actor but, to give him the benefit of the doubt, no one can be a good actor when delivering dialog like they have in this movie. Randall Wallace’s script doesn’t do Hartnett, Beckinsale or the rest of the cast any favors, either. Of course, being directed by Michael Bay probably doesn’t help. This guy may know how to whisper sweet nothings to his cinematographer and gets shots that look like post cards but his tin ear with actors usually makes him a liability in that department. If it wasn’t for The Rock, I’d write him off completely as a filmmaker.
Frankly, as long as there is a film called Tora! Tora! Tora!, there is little reason to bother with this lesser movie that mostly covers the same territory. The really sad part is that, even if the first film had never been made, Pearl Harbor still wouldn’t have any reason to exist.