09 July 2009

Flashback at the movies: Pearl Harbor.

A lunkheaded tragic romance that feels the need to drape itself in one of the most infamous events of American history to acquire some form of depth, this latest effort from Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Director Michael Bay is just as loud, stupid, and built out of whatever cinematic cliches were laying around the editing room as their last two efforts, the rather brainless The Rock and the idiotic high camp of Armageddon.

As released, Pearl Harbor seems cobbled together and wrong-headed in its determined quest to appeal to every conceivable audience (for instance, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s scenes, featured prominently in the trailers yet only comprising about twenty minutes of screen time). There is no definition to any of the characters in the script by Randall Wallace (Braveheart), merely empty ciphers that are assigned a few random traits which will be readily apparent to anyone who has spent any time at all watching movies.

The heroes of the piece are Tennessee flyboys and slashy best friends by the names of Rafe (Ben Affleck, whose hit-or-miss southern drawl is as conspicuous as his duotone hairstyle) and Danny (Josh Hartnett, who has yet to get anywhere near his stunning work in The Virgin Suicides), who end up in the military and fall for the same woman, a devoted Navy nurse named Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale). But before the forty minute sequence that details the destruction of the U.S. naval fleet, we have to toil through nearly two hours of sunsets, overly tight close-ups, and empty foreshadowing. Not to mention a tragic loss at sea, a shocking (-ly obvious) dramatic return, and a supporting cast who pretty much seal their fates through whatever two or three lines of dialogue they are given to distinguish themselves. Especially out-of-place are Ewan Bremner (fresh from julien donkey-boy), whose stuttering is played for comic relief, and Alec Baldwin, who has a jaw-dropper of a monologue at around the two hours-and-a-half mark. Credit Baldwin with recognizing the idiocy of the film he was in and giving a performance to match.

But about that forty minute sequence depicting the bombing of Pearl Harbor… Well, it gives good carnage. Which is exactly the problem that plagues every frame of this film. Why did the filmmakers feel the need to make this film? It is not devoted to historical accuracy, nor is it really even about the circumstances that led to the bombing of American soil. If it weren’t for a few cutaways to Japanese plans during the first eon of the film, the entire bombing would be almost incidental.

As is typical of Bay, jingoism and antiquated masculine codes of behavior are in plentiful supply. More disturbing is the film’s absence of passion or immediacy. You would think that a movie about such a tragic event would have the balls to make some sort of statement about anything, and instead we are treated to an elementary school history class summary of post-Tokyo bombing America. The shameful legacy of Japanese-American internment and the vaporization of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is conspicuously absent from this little voiceover epilogue regarding America’s ‘inevitable victory,’ leaving the audience, as they leave the theatre, with a sanitized version of one of Michael Ironside’s history classes from Starship Troopers. And then comes the saccharine love theme. Natch.

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