War Games

A love triangle amid one of the defining events of World War II. What's wrong with this picture?

On December 7, 1941, Japan unexpectedly attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, hoping to gain the initiative in the war against Europe. As it turned out, the attack had the effect of galvanizing the "sleeping American giant", resulting in the utter rout of the Japanese and German armies and bolstering America's dominant role in world politics.

History certainly does repeat itself - fifty years later, the cinematic retelling of the event has smashed box office records across the world, serving again to demonstrate the utter dominance of American chutzpah and marketing. A well-directed film, and one sure to move the American patriot, "Pearl Harbor" nevertheless suffers from a disadvantage: while the scenes of war and destruction are mesmerizing, the love story around which the film is so carefully built fails to impress.

It's certainly not the cast - Ben Affleck, Josh Harnett and Kate Beckinsale are all more than adequate to the task - but perhaps the odd juxtaposition of a love triangle amid one of the defining events of World War II that strikes the jarring note. Consider the story: brilliant pilot Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) joins the Air Force with his best friend Danny (Josh Hartnett), falls in love with Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), a beautiful young nurse, volunteers to fly with the British RAF against the German Luftwaffe, is shot down and promptly assumed dead.

Now in Hawaii, Evelyn and Danny meet a few months later and fall in love with each other - something Rafe isn't too happy about when he finds out after being saved from a watery grave by a French fishing boat. And just as the love triangle is about to collapse under the emotional weight of its protagonists, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, leaving our three characters to sort out their dilemma in a profoundly-different world...

While "Pearl Harbor"'s love story may seem unbelievably trite, the effects are most certainly not. The Japanese attack on the naval port is described in tremendous detail, and is perhaps the most compelling reason to watch this film. With over forty minutes of reel time devoted to the attack, you've probably never seen anything like it before; it's a visual spectacle that hits home more than any written description ever will. Bay's direction is superb - he knows just where to put the camera, and he always gets the money shot - and the cinematography and visuals - especially those shot in the train station, with steam billowing out in the background - simply gorgeous.

While I think the love story embedded within "Pearl Harbor" isn't really all that compelling - "Moulin Rouge" did it better - this is still a film worth watching, if only to understand a little bit of history!

This article was first published on 08 Aug 2001.