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Manage Your Expectations, People
Okay, so I do think Pearl Harbor is one of those movies best approached with few expectations. It's hard to please everybody with a movie like this: an action-romance-history-drama. Action fans were put off by all the mushy romance. History buffs were miffed at the factual inaccuracies. Baby boomers complained that the movie romanticized, idealized, or even trivialized wartime.
The truth is that Pearl Harbor is a fictional romance set against a real historical event, à la Titanic. If you sit down expecting a historical drama with a touch of romance, it's totally understandable that you'd be annoyed at two hours of backstory development and shameless romantic triangulation.
The Amazing Supporting Cast
Pearl Harbor actually boasts some acting heavyweights as real historical figures. Jon Voight is unrecognizable as FDR, sporting prosthetics to help him embody the iconic wartime president. His speech to the cabinet, here, is stirring.
Meanwhile, Alec Baldwin gives a hugely entertaining performance as the real-life Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle. Both men bring gravitas and panache to their respective roles.
It Portrays The Japanese Respectfully
No, this shouldn't be such a big deal — but it is. War movies often over-glorify America and demonize the other side. And WWII movies especially have a habit of engaging in offensive stereotypes of the Japanese. This big-budget studio movie managed to avoid those racist pitfalls and depict the enemy not as heartless monsters but as people — people trying to achieve victory by making calculated military, social, and political decisions, just like the Americans.
Even the film's biggest haters can't discount the tautly constructed action centerpiece of the film. The CGI is brilliant, yes, but it's also a chilling, pulse-pounding, masterfully edited scene: the building of the dramatic tension, the uncanny sense of foreboding doom, the shiver-inducing shots of torpedoes shooting through the water like sharks, the confusion that turns to panic.
The sequence weaves seamlessly between personal traumatic experiences and the overall chaos. It's an incredible few minutes that really make audiences think about how it must have felt to be there on December 7, 1941.
You guys, this theme. Hans Zimmer's epic score is crowned by "Tennessee," the soaring, sad, and beautiful orchestral number woven throughout the film. And Diane Warren's tear-jerking "There You'll Be" even garnered an Oscar nomination for best song.