Guilt Trip: Pearl Harbor (2001)

In this week's column of shame, Benj Eckford fills us in on why the much-snubbed Michael Bay epic, Pearl Harbor, will always have a special place in his ‘bro’ heart and soul.

Benj Eckford
7th November 2016

As they play together as children at the start of the film, Danny tells Rafe, “You’re my best friend.” Perhaps that one quote best explains why Pearl Harbor is my ultimate guilty pleasure film.

It fits perfectly into the Michael Bay stereotype – it’s cheesy, it’s melodramatic, much of the dialogue is disjointed and awkward, and many of the supporting characters (Kate Beckinsale and Jennifer Garner, I’m looking at you two) are wooden and uncharismatic. The romantic plotline is so sterile and uninspiring. It has come in for a great deal of richly deserved criticism and parody. The whole Cuba Gooding Jr. subplot is one of the most stark examples of a ‘token black’ character I’ve seen.

The build-up to war between America and Japan, showing each side’s admirals and generals plotting and scheming, is given insufficient screen time. We all know Michael loves his special effects and thinks they are an adequate substitute for plot and dialogue. The battle scene is entertaining to watch, but it has Michael Bay written all over it. As Team America infamously sang, “I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark when he made Pearl Harbor – and that’s an awful lot girl. Pearl Harbor sucked just a little bit more than I miss you.”

But somehow, it is strangely enthralling. What pulls you through is the compelling friendship between all-American hero Rafe (Ben Affleck) and unconfident, insecure Danny (Josh Hartnett, though it should have been Matt Damon). As close as brothers, dependent on each other and with the older, tougher Rafe often protective of the more vulnerable Danny, it pleasantly reminds me of my relationship with my own little brother. We’re introduced to them in childhood, and go through the trials and tribulations they experience in the build-up to war.

I feel every emotional blow as they are separated, when Danny mistakenly receives the news that Rafe has been killed in action, when they’re estranged and when they’re reconciled. I imagine myself in their position and I’m totally gripped. The end, though drenched in cheesy melodrama (particularly the soundtrack), is utterly heartbreaking, and leaves you mourning for the death of a true bromance. As a bro myself, this one hits me right in the feels and leaves me reeling for hours afterwards. I hate the fact that I like a Michael Bay film, but I just can’t deny this guiltiest of pleasures.

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