Evelyn: World War II, for us, began at Pearl Harbor, and 1,177 men still lie entombed in the battleship Arizona. America suffered, but America grew stronger. It was not inevitable. The times tried our souls…and through the trial, we overcame.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
From the brilliant mind of Michael Bay, the director of five terrible live-action Transformers movies comes a sad attempt to make a romance movie out of a real-life tragedy in similar vein of James Cameron’s Titanic. And whether you like or hate Titanic it is nowhere near the same level of this. Not only does it fail as in representing the full tragedy of such an event but also fails as its own story.
The story involves childhood friends Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) entering World War 2 as pilots. In the process Rafe falls in love with a young nurse named Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale). However, Rafe in his eagerness to do his part, volunteers to fight in Europe alongside England’s Royal Air force. Eventually Rafe’s plane is shot down and presumed dead and Evelyn and Danny find comfort in one another in their grief and begin a relationship. Rafe however is revealed to be alive having survived but being trapped in a Nazi-occupied France and of course that complicates things. But there is little time to dwell on this before the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and Danny and Rafe have to unite for a mission to strike back.
Michael Bay can be good when it comes to large-scale action and it really shows during the actual scene of the attack on the Harbor and the retaliation by the U.S. The camerawork covers a great deal of territory with the dropping of bombs, the crashing of planes, the sinking of the USS Arizona which is handled with great care, and the death of soldiers and civilians alike. The problem with all this is that with the exception of Officer Dorie Miller (Cuba Gooding Jr.) we have had little to no time to build a connection with any of the victims. One of the greatest strengths of Titanic is that we see the fictional characters interact with the real life characters so when the tragedy happens we can know who they are and build a connection with them. Here, story is heavily focused on building up the romance among the three mains who aren’t even at the base during the attack (which is the centerpiece of most of the action) and don’t share much connection to anyone who actually matters. The attack feels much more like an afterthought compared to the romance and while the scale of the attack is big the lack of focus on it and the more focus on the romance really doesn’t bring out what is known as a day that will forever live in infamy.
It also doesn’t help that Bay’s direction really doesn’t bring out much passion through the romance in either the writing or the chemistry among the leads. Both Affleck and Hartnett definitely give the appearance of soldiers but neither of them prove to be capable of making any aspect of the romance sincere nor are their characters well defined. Beckinsale definitely gives more flair compared to the other two but her character is also poorly defined and the lack of chemistry between both the male leads really makes it hard for her to shine.
The rest of the supporting cast aren’t given much to do. Jon Voight as President Roosevelt, Alec Baldwin as Colonel Dolittle, etc. are characters that are mostly reduced to symbols of patriotism more than anything else. While I do admire that the Japanese commanders were portrayed in a non-stereotypical way their dialogue is mostly hackneyed.
A lot of the movie just feels like needless padding with Rafe engaging in the battle of Britain and the training the Dolittle raid. Compared to the actual attack these parts feel rushed, undeveloped, and there are some scenes involving them that just feel unnecessary.
Pearl Harbor does show promise in its production value but its acting doesn’t bring much to make viewers feel anything. However its biggest issue lies in its writing. Its decision to focus much more on the romance involving characters that don’t matter in the big scheme of things rather than the titular event and those surrounding it make it a movie that will forever live in infamy.