Tuesday, October 19

Pearl Harbor at 20: Michael Bay’s bombastic and stupid war epic | Ben affleck

HHere’s how the love triangle unfolds between two pilots, Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and his best friend Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), and a nurse, Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, who is now 20. years. far from May 25, 2001, a day that will live in mild ignominy. Spoilers, obviously, for those who haven’t seen it:

Rafe and Evelyn fall in love in early 1941, before the United States enters World War II. They enjoy what Evelyn describes as “the most romantic four weeks and two days of my life.” Unbeknownst to Evelyn and Danny, Rafe has volunteered for Eagle Squad, an RAF team for Americans to help the British fight the Nazis. They don’t have sex. Rafe wants to save that for when he gets back.

Rafe doesn’t come back. Not yet, anyway. His plane is shot down in the Atlantic and is presumed dead. Danny and Evelyn, now stationed in a small naval paradise called Pearl Harbor, are devastated by the news. Danny offers Evelyn a shoulder to cry on. One thing leads to another. They have sex in a parachute hangar.

But wait! Rafe is alive. Resurfacing a few days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he learns, after his ordeal of months in occupied France, that his best friend and the love of his life have turned the page after a period of mourning (extremely abbreviated) . Then Pearl Harbor happens. Break the tension. It gives everyone something else to think about.

In the days after the attack, Danny and Rafe are assigned to what turns out to be a top-secret and near-suicidal retaliation mission over Japan. Evelyn tells Rafe that she is pregnant with Danny’s child and that she intends to stay with Danny, which Rafe agrees to. She doesn’t tell Danny. He doesn’t learn until Japanese soldiers shoot him, at which point he uses his last breath to tell Rafe that he will now be the boy’s father. And so on: Rafe and Evelyn raise the child. There are no prizes for guessing the child’s name.

The banality of the plot here, courtesy of Braveheart screenwriter Randall Wallace, is self-evident and shows in almost every Pearl Harbor review, which opened, like all Bay movies, to bad news and a box office. solid. But the truly damning detail, one that extends beyond the love triangle and into every other aspect of the film, is that Rafe and Danny are interchangeable. It doesn’t matter if Evelyn spends the rest of her life with one or the other. (In fact, she has no other choice!) Perhaps one is a better lover and the other more emotionally generous. Perhaps you share more interests with one than the other, or perhaps there are differences in values, politics, or preferred pizza toppings. The particular qualities that can separate these two humans become so irrelevant, in fact, that Evelyn tells Rafe that she will never see another sunset without thinking of him. This despite the fact that it is Danny who sneaks her on a plane to see Pearl Harbor at sunset. These three really like sunsets.

There are many occasions to point out and laugh at an awkward romantic exchange or other (“You are so beautiful it hurts.” “It’s your nose that hurts.” “No, it’s my heart”), but it is this flattening of human experience that defines. the film, which turns an understanding of the history of a Texas elementary school into an Epcot theme park attraction. In Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s mass tragedy blockbuster, war is not hell, but outright explosion, with hot nurses, picturesque locations, and aerial heroics so staggering that the president himself will hang a medal on your lapel.

If Pearl Harbor feels like a recruiting movie for a war that would happen about five months later in Afghanistan, it is not entirely by accident. Bruckheimer’s Top Gun was a boon to the United States Navy in the mid-1980s, and there is little light between the aviator machismo and militaristic adventure in that movie and the theatricality of Rafe and Danny in this one. (Not to mention the intense homoeroticism. Pearl Harbor is a love triangle in the truest sense. Evelyn and Danny are romantic rivals rather than romantic partners.) And Titanic had brushed aside any concern that the human catastrophe was also box-office anathema. as long as it can serve as a backdrop for a love story. The fidelity to the story was a distant second to the fidelity to the box office formula.

Photograph: AF Archive / Alamy

And yet, Bay is still an amazing image maker. That truth can and should be qualified by any amount of slander about how those images come together and what they mean, but Miller Time’s Bruckheimer school of business stylists has never had a more precious pupil. It takes 90 minutes to get to December 7, 1941, but the Pearl Harbor sequence is staged with technical bravado that combines the bombast and pyrotechnics of Bay’s films like The Rock and Armageddon with shots of haunting beauty. Bay will never be confused with Terrence Malick, but there is a touch of The Thin Red Line in the sight of Japanese fighter jets passing through the lush greens and sparkling waters of Oahu at sunrise, an imminent violation of the natural world. It even slows down your usual hyper-aggressive editing pace to give your pristine arrangements of planes, ships, and bodies a bit more room to breathe.

However, in relative terms, the most devastating attack on American soil does not look as bad as it surely did. The PG-13 rating grants the film the license to treat the historical devastation from the bloodless distance of any other blockbuster action film, and each time Bay is forced to get close, as if following the chaos of the hospital ward. from Evelyn, she turns around like a child getting shot. The blurry images are meant to suggest visceral panic, but their true intent is to protect the audience from any violence that may actually make them sick. And it’s not just an audience ploy, either: Anyone who has seen the 1930 World War I classic All Quiet on the Western Front can attest to its unshakable horror.

And besides, Bruckheimer and Bay only worry about the loss as a prelude to an eventual triumph, either in Rafe and Danny’s tenacious efforts to get their planes off the runway or in the mini-arc of the only black character in the film (Cuba Gooding Jr). to get out of the battleship’s galley and behind an anti-aircraft gun. When Rafe and Danny finally get a chance for revenge as part of Doolittle’s foray into Tokyo, their fearless leader (Alec Baldwin, who sounds incredibly like Robert Stack on Airplane) likens it to a “jab” next to the “mallet.” of Pearl Harbor. But hell if events don’t get the same weight here.

“History is written by the victors” may be an apocryphal phrase, but Bruckheimer and Bay certainly weren’t going to frame Pearl Harbor as a tragedy. Better to leave that to the losers and celebrate what happened after the sleeping giant woke up from his slumber.


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