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To call Pearl Harbor a throwback to old-time war movies is something of an understatement. Director Michael Bay's epic take on the bombing that brought the United States into World War II hijacks every war movie situation and cliché (some affectionate, some stale) you've ever seen and gives them a shiny, glossy spin until the whole movie practically gleams. Planes glisten, water sparkles, trees beckon--and Bay's re-creation of the bombing itself, a 30-minute sequence that's tightly choreographed and amazingly photographed, sets the action movie bar up quite a few notches. And in updating the classic war film, Bay and screenwriter Randall Wallace (Braveheart) use that old plot standby, the love triangle--this time, it's between two pilots (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) and a nurse (Kate Beckinsale) who find themselves stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, during what they thought would be a nice, sunny tour of duty. Then, of course, history intervened.
For the first 90 minutes of the movie, Affleck and Beckinsale find a nice, appealing chemistry that plays on his strengths as a movie star and hers as a serious actress--he gives her glamour, she gives him smarts. Their truncated romance--the beginning of which is told in flashback so we can get right to the point where he has to leave her to go to England--works, thanks to their charm. They're no Kate and Leo from Titanic (a strategy the film strives hard toward), but they're pretty darn adorable in their own right. Hartnett, as the not entirely unwelcome third wheel, squints bravely but makes only a slight dent in the film. Everyone else in Pearl Harbor--from Cuba Gooding Jr.'s brave navy seaman to Jon Voight's able impersonation of FDR--is pretty much a glorified walk-on, taking a backseat to the pyrotechnics and action sequences that keep the three-hour film in fairly constant motion. But when that action does take hold, Pearl Harbor is quite a thrilling ride. --Mark Englehart
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