Pearl Harbor review

:. Director: Michael Bay
:. Starring: Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale
:. Running Time: 3:03
:. Year: 2001
:. Country: USA

As is annually customary, Hollywood launches the American box office conquest by playing the patriotic card of a great nation in peril. Last year, Emmerich offered us Mel Gibson, who repelled the invasion of Her Majesty's troops in The Patriot. This year the blockbuster duo of Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer (Armaggedon, Con Air, The Rock) has their turn to hit the jackpot with the Pearl Harbor attack and feature Ben Affleck as an improbable hero—I suspect that the next year John Woo will present us with a remake of The Alamo with Tom Cruise in the title role of Davy Crockett.

Pearl Harbor is constructed in three parts: the lovers of Pearl Harbor, the attack of Pearl Harbor, and the Pearl Harbor counter-attack. It shouldn't escape anyone that the film sifts Titanic over a wartime backdrop. All of the ingredients are there: romantic scenes, impressive shots of ships in perdition, and the Japanese army in the role of the iceberg.

The first part introduces the protagonists caught in a love triangle, a tendency that's definitely in vogue in current war films (see Enemy At The Gate). Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett play pilots Rafe and Danny, two childhood friends raised in Tennessee, who are in love with the same nurse Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale). When Rafe, off to fight in England is reported missing, Danny naturally takes his place in her heart. And when Rafe reappears (no big surprise there) the trio is seen confronted with the same moral conflict which had to have affected Tom Hanks and his volleyball in Cast Away. This first part, the most tedious, is much more artificial than the special effects of film. This is one of these films where the love letters are written seaside and later burned one by one on the beach, and where the love scenes resemble a perfume commercial.

Finally the attack arrives. Bay's directing, a reputation built on the pyro-technical effects on films such as Armaggedon, takes off. The scenes are spectacular and his dexterity in movement is certain. From the bombardment to the air battles, the scenes are grandiose and realistic. Bay switches between wide shots and up close details, which allows a general perspective of the extent of the damage while sharing the personal experiences of the thousands of men and women who were trapped. In this second act, the characters are relegated to the background to concentrate on the event itself. Contrary to Titanic where the couple had enough presence to compete with the importance of the sinking steamer, it is clear that here the true stars of the film are these warships struck by the Japanese raid. One could then, with accuracy, think that the film ends here on a high point.

Quite to the contrary, a third part then starts where our two pilots who had distinguished themselves with their heroism are selected for an avenger mission against Japan. One opens a third hour where the film falls down flat. This epilogue has obviously no other usefulness other than to leave the audience without a feeling of defeat and to resolve the sentimental and moral problems of the three principal characters. Since one is already trapped in the theater, one can only hope that the film does not continue its impetus with the Normandy invasion or freeing Berlin.

If the "love story" is annoying, the acting makes it all the more unpalatable. Let's start with Ben Affleck. Hollywood, suffering a hero breakdown in its young generation, seems to have fixed a choice on Affleck, who is above all an actor of independent and irreverent comedies. Though he's perfect in a few humorous scenes as an awkward and charming young man, he is dreadful in the dramatic ones. Strangely, at the beginning he has a Southern accent that he loses during his European scenes in England and France, only to furtively get it back once he comes back home. Maybe Guinness or a good French camembert have unexpected virtues? As for Kate Beckinsale and Josh Hartnett, they're fairly transparent and never convincing. Only Alec Baldwin brings a certain relief, when he doesn't overdo it.

The full-length film appears to be a means for the director, the champion of "popcorn" films, to seek new credibility following the example of Spielberg (Schlinder' s List and Saving Private Ryan). Disney's noisy promotional campaign (on a ship, in Pearl Harbor, with fireworks!) and the endless interviews did not cease proffering Bay's concern for realism and the homage paid to survivors of the attack.

Because too many genres mix to make everyone in the family happy (each generation gets its due here), Pearl Harbor becomes the perfect candidate for the "straight to DVD" format. This allows you to directly access the harbor attack so you can fully benefit from the special effects and sound without enduring the rest of the story.

  Fred Thom

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