It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Pearl Harbor" is a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle. Its centerpiece is 40 minutes of redundant special effects, surrounded by a love story of stunning banality. The film has been directed without grace, vision, or originality, and although you may walk out quoting lines of dialog, it will not be because you admire them.
The filmmakers seem to have aimed the film at an audience that may not have heard of Pearl Harbor, or perhaps even of World War Two. This is the Our Weekly Reader version. If you have the slightest knowledge of the events in the film, you will know more than it can tell you. There is no sense of history, strategy or context; according to this movie, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because America cut off its oil supply, and they were down to an 18 month reserve. Would going to war restore the fuel sources? Did they perhaps also have imperialist designs? Movie doesn't say.
So shaky is the film's history that at the end, when Jimmy Doolittle's Tokyo raiders crash-land in China, they're shot at by Japanese patrols with only a murky throwaway explanation about the Sino-Japanese war already underway. I predict some viewers will leave the theater sincerely confused about why there were Japanese in China.
As for the movie's portrait of the Japanese themselves, it is so oblique that Japanese audiences will find little to complain about apart from the fact that they play such a small role in their own raid. There are several scenes where the Japanese high command debates military tactics, but all of their dialog is strictly expository; they state facts but do not emerge with personalities or passions. Only Admiral Yamamoto (Mako) is seen as an individual, and his dialog seems to have been singled out with the hindsight of history. Congratulated on a brilliant raid, he demurs, "A brilliant man would find a way not to fight a war." And later, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant." Do you imagine at any point the Japanese high command engaged in the 1941 Japanese equivalent of exchanging high-fives and shouting "Yes!" while pumping their fists in the air? Not in this movie, where the Japanese seem to have been melancholy even at the time about the regrettable need to play such a negative role in such a positive Hollywood film.