Pearl Harbor

Directed by Michael Bay
Starring: Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tom Sizemore, Alec Baldwin, Jon Voight.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sustained intense war sequences, images of wounded, brief sensuality and some language.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
June 4, 2001

Three hours. Three hours that I will never get back. Multiplied by the number of people that have seen this film because they did not get my warning, those three hours and the following ten days have seen the destruction of lifetimes. In a just and civilized world, Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay would be held accountable for murder. However, some blame must lie with me. I have put off this review since seeing the film on opening night, allowing this tragedy to continue. Well, no more, I say!

Perhaps the biggest problem with Pearl Harbor is the fact that I have to explain the plot. The only worthwhile part of the film -- the entire justification for all one and a half of its stars -- is the sequence that depicts the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. The rest is almost too painful to recall, but I will make an effort.

Ben Affleck plays a pilot who signs up to join the British Eagle Squadron -- a pre-1941 program for American pilots to fight alongside the Royal Air Force -- leaving his best buddy (Josh Hartnett) and best girl (Kate Beckinsale) to go to Pearl Harbor all by themselves.

45 minutes into the film, we are (unsuccessfully) tricked into believing that Affleck was killed in action. Then we have to sit through an entirely Affleck-less hour depicting a new relationship between Hartnett and Beckinsale. Then, of course, Affleck turns up alive, and arrives at Pearl Harbor -- on December 6, 1941, several months after his presumed death. After one night of bitter jealousy, Admiral Yamamoto (Mako) shows up to stop this stupid plot from completely ruining the film.

It could have stopped after the attack, but Bruckheimer and Bay were obviously intent on making sure the film continued to suck after its one good sequence. Ben and Josh then follow General Doolittle (Alec Baldwin), their mentor, on a revenge bombing mission against Tokyo. Only after that sequence could Pearl Harbor realize its gargantuan length.

During these tortuous minutes, I took notes, as I do for every film I review. Please allow me to share these insights in a slightly edited form:

Sample dialogue after Beckinsale gives Affleck a broken nose:
"You are so beautiful it hurts."
"That's your nose."
"I think it's my heart."
They kiss.

Before Affleck leaves Beckinsale, he refuses to sleep with her, lest he ruin the moment. My note: "Is he Christ?"

In 1941, the White House had very poor lighting.

From Here to Eternity For Dummies.

Apparently, Admiral Kimmel (Colm Feore) likes to play golf at 7:20 on Sunday mornings.

Kate Beckinsale uses lipstick and nylons to serve her country (after all, she's just a girl).

FDR (Jon Voight in heavy makeup) speaks in the same manner as his speeches all the time.

Then, there were the two notes that nailed the coffin shut. First, the appearance of Ted McGinley to deliver two lines. His presence has never bode well for any film since Revenge of the Nerds. The final one, the moment that made me hate the film, was its most prominent product placement. During the aftermath of the bombing, there is a short sequence that takes place within one room of the Navy hospital. On one side is a black sailor, before this day serving only as a cook because of his race, dying after a futile attempt at defending his ship. This could have been the galvanizing poignant moment of the film -- a human element to justify all the stupidity. Instead, his last rights are heard in the background while Affleck and Hartnett donate blood. With inadequate supplies, they are forced to use soda bottles. This is illustrated by a nice, clear close-up of two Coca-Cola bottles filling with blood. That was one of the most degrading, tasteless things I have ever seen in a motion picture. Until then, I actually thought that these filmmakers were above that.

When something like that happens, it almost makes me forget just how poorly written the film was. I wrote down two different summations of the film. The first phrase I thought of was "every bad war movie you've ever seen." By the end, I wrote, "the ultimate bad war movie," after realizing that this one tops the list.

Luckily, it seems that people are realizing this. There were extremely high hopes for this film, but it looks like Shrek will actually be a much bigger hit in the long run, and will probably overtake Pearl Harbor next weekend. One can only hope that Disney will learn something from this: that marketing can only make your film so successful. It still has to be good, and Bruckheimer generally does not make good movies, popular as some of them may be.

I hope you were not one of the unlucky millions who lost three precious hours (and up to ten precious dollars) on this film. My condolences and apologies to those that did. Now, we all must come together and try to get on with our lives.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Pearl Harbor (2001)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
Pearl Harbor (2001) -- VHS
Pearl Harbor (2001) -- VHS Widescreen
Pearl Harbor (2001) -- DVD
Pearl Harbor: The Movie and the Moment, edited by Antonia Felix -- Hardcover
Pearl Harbor: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
Review Archive
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings

Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan