I’ve been tough on Michael Bay in the past, with very good reason, but the one credit I can give him is the innate power of Pearl Harbor, which manages even to outshine From Here to Eternity in its visceral impact. While Zinnemann’s film basically constitutes the Japanese dropping bombs on a potboiler soap opera, Bay provides us with the actual experience of the horrors of 7 December 1941 with the white-knuckle verisimilitude of Paul Greengrass’s Sunday Bloody Sunday.
Josh Hartnett delivers a strong but sensitive performance as Daniel Walker, an idealistic young lieutenant, and Jon Voight performs with a formidable screen presence not seen from him since the heights of his 1970s career. Only Ben Affleck disappoints with his eager yet stilted turn as Rafe McCawley. (I guess Toby Maguire wasn’t a big enough star yet—he would have been an inspired choice.)
Though the pacing may strike some viewers has rapid and choppy (four main editors are credited on the film), they provide a perfect counterpoint to Bay’s almost delicate framing. His compositions and reliance on Dutch angles actually benefit him here, highlighting the drama of Randall Wallace’s screenplay. Whatever you think of Bay’s filmography as a whole, Pearl Harbor is definitely a diamond in the rough.
I just don’t get this movie. Look, I’m a Wong Kar-Wai fan: I adore In the Mood for Love, think Chungking Express is one of the 1990s’s best films, and sit astounded by the depth and mystery of 2046 and My Blueberry Nights. But the appeal of this movie, which fellow critics describe as “loose, buoyant and bracingly original,” “a quantum leap in terms of visceral power,” and “stylistically brash, pulsing with life,” just escapes me. I’ve seen it twice now, and all it is, is just two gay guys bitching at each other for ninety minutes. There is no drama, conflict, interesting dialogue, or redeeming artistic qualities. Just bitching, bitching, and more bitching, eventually. I couldn’t wait to get as far from these characters as possible, and felt nothing but relief when the movie ended. What I endure for Quick Takes…
Lawrence of Arabia
David Lean’s towering 1962 epic has been lauded for its immense scope, its groundbreaking cinematography, its narrative reach and structure, and fine performances. In those regards, there is little to debate. But critics all-too-often let the historical import of a work overshadow its primary function—namely, to unfold in front of an audience. This is why Birth of a Nation is still written about as a groundbreaking cinematic game changer instead of an alternative to Ambien. The actual experience of watching Lawrence of Arabia is almost excruciating; the film is, put simply, a crushing bore.
It is difficult to see in the 1992 Director’s Cut restoration what Leonard Maltin refers to as “judicious trims”—if you nod off during one portion of Lawrence’s interminable trek through the desert, when you wake, you are still likely to see a vast expanse of beige and blue. At least in occasional slumber you may be spared the noisome work of Maurice Jarre; Oscar win aside, Lawrence of Arabia boasts one of the more annoying film scores in history. Its relentless repetition would make Philip Glass proud, but Glass would never fall victim to Jarre’s nails-on-a-chalkboard melodies.
And what to make of David Lean himself, who, in this film more than any other, displays clearly his marked homophobia (does Lawrence have to flit and prance about so obviously?) and misogyny (225 minutes and not a single line for a woman)? Lean is an obvious talent when given the appropriate resources, but in the more enlightened 21st century, his work here can never rise above quaint. As we move further in the digital age, critical reassessments of Lawrence will grow less and less kind, and its current inflated stature will diminish.