Pearl HarborReviewed By Thom
Posted 05/23/01 12:17:09
I should always trust my instincts, and barring that, use the Inverse Casual Relationship Theory as it applies to hype and movies. The more hyped a movie is, the more its going to suck. Guess what? WE HAVE A WINNER. Pearl Harbor is a real bomb and insulting to boot. I'm a kamikaze pilot headed right for this movie and I'm hoping that director, Micheal Bay, will commit Hari Kari for shaming history with this schmaltzy hack job.Pearl Harbor is overly melodramatic, romanticizes the war "hero" and only my grandparents will appreciate its simplistic patriotic overtones. It's one cliche right after another, including the teary-eyed girlfriend in the smoke of the steam engine as the train departs with her loved one set for war.
Granted, there are a few moments where 21st century social enlightenment kicks in. The Japanese general says, "Its better to find a way to not have to go to war" or the black navy seamen (played by Cuba Gooding Jr. in a role that could have been cut from the film entirely) who joined the navy to see the world and become a man and instead of giving him the opportunity to become a hero the navy made him clean up after the white soldiers in the mess hall. But the only emotion associated with that scene is something like wistful resignation rather than righteous inignation. "Well, that's okay, cottonpicker, you just go on out there and wash dishes the best you can and don't think too much about the white folks."
Trying to see the Japanese as an "enemy" didn't sit right in my gut and after about an hour, I just walked out because I couldn't connect emotionally with anything that was happening on the screen. Nazis will always make good on-screen enemies because Nazism, like all kinds of zionistic ideologies, alienate the world under a banner of hatred. Its impossible to watch a film that has any pretentions to history without looking at the film through my very modern eyes. And the Japanese, like the Russians, don't make good screen enemies because there is nothing inherently threatening about race the way there is about an ideology of bloodshed. Not that there weren't atrocities commited by all parties. Its a war after all and much has been made about the Japanese use of Korean sex slaves. But this movie, had it featured Korean sex slaves, would have given my modern hackles a reason to raise: the issue of exploitation and degradation rather than anti-Japanese propaganda. I feel like I live in a world where borders are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
I talked to a Japanese friend of mine about this film and although he, like me, is two generations removed from the war, he holds some strong opinions about it. He said that in a war, there is no right. Patriotism can be good and it can be a bad thing. He also told me that in Japan, they learn that the American's knew the Japanese were approaching and were going to attack Pearl Harbor and the US Government allowed it to happen to give the American public a rallying point to go to war. At the time, the US public thought the war was a European war and until Pearl Harbor, the US didn't have an "enemy". We were also trying to come out of the depression and everyone knows war is good business.
None of this real life stuff has much bearing on a film that sucks all on its own as film but there is an extra layer of suck in that this movie was scripted around a key moment in world history that ignores how much the world has changed since then. Its the perfect film for the Bush Jr. administration.
1941 starring John Belushi, made better use of Wartime as a backdrop. Movies about war just aren't cool unless they are trying to show how tragic and fucked up human beings are at their most depraved and enslaved. Movies like Schindler's List are trying to make sense out of the war. I think Pearl Harbor would have been more appropriate if it was about Japanese Americans in internment camps and the love that blossomed under impossible conditions when not being white, made you a suspect.
In an opening scene, the young Rafe McCawly (Jesse James) calls Danny's Father (William Fichtner) a "dirty german". The violins begin to play and Danny's dad tearfully explains how he fought the Germans in the World War One so put that in your little pipe and smoke it. How noble. Since the film was set before the raid on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were still treated as racial outcasts like any other "imgrint" or "coon" rather than political prisoners by their own government.
The only films about World War Two that should be made now should be films with a critical perspective embracing the hard truths. Anything else is an insult to the people who have had to fight for their place in society because of a society that once rejected them because of the overt white, straight, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant supremacy in American society. Its a wonder the US jumped in at all. They certainly didn't dive into the war to save the European Jews but because the US thinks of itself as a mythical heroic cowboy.The acting is excellent. So hats off to the players. And there were worthwhile and charming moments in the first hour but taken as a whole, I'd drop an H-Bomb on it. Pearl Harbor will most likely rake it in because its sappy and crappy and has steamy, 40's style BIG STAR on screen kisses, the kind that are going to make everyone's hollywood hunk fantasy come true.
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