Pearl Harbor
***.1 GM
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, Jon Voight, Alec Baldwin, Cuba Gooding Jr., James King, Tom Sizemore, Michael Shannon, Colm Feore, Dan Aykroyd, Mako, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa


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You take good ol' "Slow-mo swooping shot equals drama and excitement" Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer, makers of such character-driven thinkpieces like "Bad Boys," "Armageddon" and "The Rock," and let them go hog wild on a major American disaster like the attack on Pearl Harbor, and what do you get? I know, it's shocking, but the result is (drum roll).... great action and weak characterization!

The visuals in this film are stunning. It's all incredibly well-done, which I'd expect, since eye candy is their specialty. The swarms of Japanese planes swooping down over the unsuspecting troops and families are very realistic, unnerving and even a bit scary. Not quite as scary as if the characters were particularly compelling, but it's as close to the reality of that nightmarish day that I'll ever see. The action sequences, the immense destruction and chaos all over the base during the attack is so thick with things to see that repeated viewings might be necessary to catch it all - although three hours is a hefty chuck of time to sit through just for that. Surprisingly enough though, even with the iffy parts, it never seemed to drag.

I liked Affleck, I liked Beckinsale, and to my surprise, I really enjoyed the performance of Josh Hartnett - something understated and quiet going on there. There weren't any bad performances dragging things down. It's just that most of the story beyond the attack isn't particularly involving. Maybe it's all meant to suggest a 'simpler time,' but the emotions here seem a little TOO simple, despite the attempt at complicating them by whipping up a triangle. It just didn't hit the mark for me.

Simplicity might just be the point. Although it's interesting that they're actually presenting the Japanese as reluctant to start open warfare, this really comes off as a rah-rah American film, especially towards the end when Beckinsale suddenly becomes a narrator out of nowhere and talks about the "American Fighting Spirit" and what-not, making things a lot more heavy-handed than they needed to be. I was actually intrigued for a moment that they were making a film about such a horrible tragedy that it couldn't help but be a downer ending, which would be surprising out of the Bruck-Cat. Then the Doolittle mission is tacked on to the end - it's something that really happened, but it felt a bit like it was forced in to ensure patriotic pride swells as the credits roll.

Overall, though, it's a film worth seeing. As I said with "Titanic," the love story doesn't matter - all of these people actually died these horrible deaths. This is how THOUSANDS of lives were ended. It's a chilling tragedy realistically depicted, and the performances are good enough to help ease the pain of Bruckheimer-style characterization, and even that isn't TOO bad.

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