Review – Pearl Harbor (2001)

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant.”
– Admiral Yamamoto

When I went to school, I had the lowest grades in my history classes. It’s not because I was dumb or couldn’t learn anything…I just hated the subject because it was boring. I cared more about looking towards the future and learning about our ever-changing world. Suffice it to say, I relied a bit more on movies to help educate me on the complexities of our history – especially when it came to war. If there’s one topic I couldn’t care less about, it was war. Even with my passion for film, the topic of war is always something I’ll moan and groan about…even when the movie in question is phenomenal…which Pearl Harbor is notoriously not. Instead, this is a prime example of why I moan and groan at the prospect of war films…long, boring, tedious, and over-convoluted because its incapable of focusing on one character or one story! I digress.

I am embarrassed to admit that before watching this movie, I knew very little about the details surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor. Heck, I didn’t even truly know where Pearl Harbor was from a geographical standpoint. So, one of the reasons I wanted to watch this film was to learn a thing or two about this historical event. What happened since then? The short answer is I know just as much, or as little, as I knew before watching the movie. My wife knows more about the historical event than I do, and proceeded to explain certain things happening in the movie because the movie itself was doing a improper job explaining anything more than what it means to be in a love triangle.

The fact of the matter is this film doesn’t quite know what to focus on. It has no idea if it is a war or romance film. If you go into the movie expecting a romance film, the war aspect will be distracting. If you go in for the war aspect, the romance part will be distracting. That is because the two genres act more like adversaries. It’s not that war and romance can’t go together…it’s that they just don’t mix here.

The opposing genres of war and romance in Pearl Harbor blend together like gasoline in water

Pearl Harbor is a classic tale of romance set during a war that complicates everything. It all starts when childhood friends Rafe and Danny become Army Air Corps pilots and meet Evelyn, a Navy nurse. Rafe falls head over heels and next thing you know Evelyn and Rafe are hooking up. Then Rafe volunteers to go fight in Britain and Evelyn and Danny get transferred to Pearl Harbor. While Rafe is off fighting everything gets completely whack and next thing you know everybody is in the middle of an air raid we now know as “Pearl Harbor.”


PEOPLE – 6/20 (30%)

Acting – 1/4 | Characters – 2/4 | Casting – 1/4 | Importance – 1/4 | Chemistry – 1/4

One of the massive disappointing elements of Pearl Harbor comes down to the people category. The only redeeming qualities here is the fact that the characters are simply okay. They aren’t exactly memorable by any means, but they aren’t bad…while everything else in this category can be seen as bad. The acting is noticeably distracting, particularly when we’re dealing with Ben Affleck. His emotional scenes stick out like a sore thumb. You almost want to look away when they occur, and the scenes with Josh Hartnett, while better, aren’t by much, which means the casting could’ve been improved if literally everyone was recast here. When it comes to everyone’s individual importance, I felt as if everyone, including Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, blended in together. They didn’t really add very much to anything at all. As for chemistry, I just didn’t feel much of it, especially when needed. I didn’t feel it with either romance or the friendship…it was all just bland and nearly nonexistent.

WRITING – 3/10 (30%)

Dialogue – 1/2 | Balance – 0/2 | Story Depth – 0/2 | Originality – 2/2 | Interesting – 0/2

The writing in this film is also just as noticeably bad. Lots of people will point out that the dialogue is bad in this film, and I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. Here and there, sure…but it also has some good quotes as well, which lands me smack dab in the middle as far as scoring goes. I do consider it as original, as I can’t really think of any other film centered on this story, but everything else in this category gets glaring zeroes. It is so convoluted because you don’t know who the main character is, and the two main genres butt heads constantly, there’s no real depth to the story unless you count the strength of the friendship…but since you can’t really buy their chemistry, it’s hard to buy the depth, and interesting? No. I had no interest to watch the movie, and the only real interest I had with the movie was the attack on Pearl Harbor. That’s it.

BTS – 9/10 (90%)

Visuals – 2/2 | Cinematography – 2/2 | Editing – 2/2 | Advertising – 2/2 | Music & Sound – 1/2

Ahh, yes, there’s the Oscar Bait! No matter how awful the film gets from a storytelling perspective, it got this area right. Most people would tell you that the action sequence that takes place in the middle of the film is well done, and it is. It is Star Wars good. The visuals are great, the way it is shot is amazing, the shots are stitched together in an impressive manner, it was as-advertised. The only thing I’d say is that the music isn’t as impressive as the Oscars gave it credit for – it was only good enough to make the film feel like it should. That’s it. Even when we weren’t talking about that action sequence, the film still had a great artistic vision. I noticed areas of perfection when it came to production design, cinematography, and editing throughout the entirety of the film. It’s just a shame that this level of dedication wasn’t found in every area of the filmmaking process.

NARRATIVE ARC – 6/10 (60%)

Introduction – 2/2 | Inciting Incident – 1/2 | Obstacles – 0/2 | Climax – 2/2 | Resolution – 1/2

A narrative structure should be the easiest obstacle a film needs to craft, and yet, some films have issues with it. Sure, it is a historical film, but historical fiction can also follow the same narrative structure as any other film. The problem this film faces is the inciting incident. I would probably say the incident itself is the attack on Pearl Harbor, but not only does this occur much later in the film than a normal inciting incident would, it also lasts for nearly an hour. So when it comes to what they’ll do from this point forward, they have no real obstacles in their way. They just…do it, and that’s that. Heck, with all the time they spend in the film setting up this relationship and love triangle, the end battle sequence seems incredibly forced and rushed in comparison, making it feel even more imbalanced from a purely narrative perspective.

ENTERTAINMENT – 1/10 (10%)

Rewatchability – 0/2 | Fun Experience – 0/2 | Impulse/Buy – 0/2 | Impulse/Talk – 0/2 | Sucks You In – 1/2

There are a few things that happen in the movie that are important not too miss or the rest of the movie may not make as much sense as it needs to, which is why the sucking you in subcategory gets half points. I don’t care to see it again unless I watched a FanEdit where they removed the love triangle, I didn’t really have a great experience in general watching it. I don’t want to buy it or own it, I don’t think there’s much to discuss in general.

SPECIALTY – 15/40 (37.5%)

War – 5/10 | Michael Bay – 5/10 | Ben Affleck – 0/10 | Halfway Decent – 5/10

As mentioned above, I didn’t know much about Pearl Harbor before seeing the movie, so a part of my expectations going in was learning a bit more about this war. Well, it had some interesting scenes with educational value, but it still failed to give you as much of the WHY as they gave of the WHAT, which is why I gave half points. As far as Michael Bay, you can tell it is him. Lots of explosions and his iconic slow-mo shot of someone exiting a vehicle, but in his entire filmographi, this is one of the few I’d really prefer to forget, so half points again. As for Ben Affleck, he was pretty horrible, and that’s coming from a guy that doesn’t hate him. His emotional scenes are downright laughable, so this gets no points at all. As far as being halfway decent? This is a rare moment where I don’t think the filmmakers succeeded in making the film they wanted to make from the get go – especially because the two main genres clash pretty harshly…and they shouldn’t – so this gets half points as well.


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