Projections - Movie Reviews

Pearl Harbor Pearl Harbor

Director Michael Bay's World War II epic is half love story and half war story.

There has been a lot of criticism that the first third of the over three hour film is devoted to a love story between pilot Rafe McCawley (played by boyishly exuberant, Ben Affleck) and Evelyn Johnson, a volunteer nurse (played by beautiful Kate Beckinsale).  But, as with Titanic, the romance only gives personal connection to the larger events to come.

Rafe and his friend Danny Walker jumped off of barn roofs as boys with homemade wings strapped to their arms, so it wasn't surprising that they grew up to be U.S. Army Air Corps pilots.  With Rafe more outgoing and sure of himself, he takes a protective role with the shyer Danny (Josh Harnett).

The meeting between Rafe and Evelyn during an Army physical is sassy and fun.  They date for a while, fall in love and are constantly together until Rafe joins the European air war as an Eagle Squadron pilot.

While Rafe is in Europe flying broken down planes riddled with bullet holes, Evelyn is transferred to beautiful and warm Hawaii.  As they exchange letters, the contrasting backgrounds tell their own story.

When Rafe's plane is shot down, Evelyn and Danny gravitate to one another more out of a need to be close to someone.  They begin dating, but Evelyn seems to be just passing the time.

The Hawaiian landscape is clam and serene with ground crews sunning themselves, fishing or doing mundane chores on the morning of the attack.  Since Jerry Bruckeimer is an action producer (Armageddon and The Rock), you know that the action scenes are going to be top-notch, and we are not disappointed.  The morning mist is suddenly cluttered with Japanese Zeros flying low and smashing the beach below into pieces.  Close-ups of bombs falling to their final destruction or ships breaking apart with explosive thunder while screaming men fall into the sea make the horror of the assault devastatingly real.

The later retaliating attack on Tokyo by the U.S. B-25 bombers is every bit as exciting.  The men trying to get the overweight, lumbering planes ready for takeoff from an aircraft carrier, provide  outstanding action scenes.

One of the most stirring scenes takes place in a Hawaiian hospital which is too small to handle the hundreds of injured and dying.  The overwhelmed doctor tells Evelyn to go outside and admit only the ones that have a chance to survive.  She uses lipstick to mark the foreheads of those who might live and an "F" for those who will not be admitted because they will not survive.  It's very moving indeed.

Cuba Gooding Jr. plays a cook who picks up an anti-aircraft gun and shoots down enemy planes.  Jon Voight as President Franklin D. Roosevelt is stern and commanding; and Alec Baldwin as hero Col. James H. Doolittle holds his own.

Affleck is charismatic and charming enough to lead and Kate Beckinsale is every bit as beautiful as a 1940's star.  Their on-screen relationships rings true.  Harnett, who appears younger than his co-stars, has boyish appeal.

Pearl Harbor does take some liberties with historical accuracy.  The December 7, 1941 invasion caught the U.S. completely unaware.  Captain Thurman (Dan Aykroyd) is Naval Intelligence decoder predicts the invasion in the film, but the brass don't believe him.  This character is not real, but based on a composite of different men with similar jobs.

The main characters of Rafe and Danny are fictional, but there were two pilots named Welch and Taylor who managed to get two planes off the ground during the attack to fight the Japanese.  Also, Gooding's character is based on truth, and of course, so is Col. Doolittle.

The high standard of the Pearl Harbor invasion as depicted in 1970's Tora, Tora, Tora was made at a different time.  It costs so much to make an action film today, it has to appeal to a wide audience.  Pearl Harbor is well made, has engaging, talented stars and thrilling, realistic war action.  It offers something for everyone.

 
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