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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Roland Emmerich
scr Wes Tooke
prd Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser
with Ed Skrein, Woody Harrelson, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Tadanobu Asano, Etsushi Toyokawa, Jun Kunimura, Mandy Moore, Aaron Eckhart, Dennis Quaid, Luke Kleintank, Darren Criss, Nick Jonas
release US/UK 8.Nov.19
19/US Lionsgate 2h18
Roland Emmerich brings his brand of glossy digital mayhem twinned with rah-rah Americana to a pivotal WWII battle, previously filmed (in Sensurround!) in 1976. This cast isn't quite as starry, but it still manages to collect an eclectic bunch of watchable big-name actors willing to deliver some truly wooden dialog before launching into another whizzy effects-heavy battle. So it's both stirring and ridiculous.
After the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, American intelligence officer Layton (Wilson) is determined to track their movements more accurately. He works out that their next target is the Midway atoll, and Admiral Nimitz (Harrelson) makes his plans accordingly. A team of hotshot dive-bomber pilots (including Skrein, Evans, Criss and Jonas) lead the charge, as pilot Doolittle (Eckhart) drops a few bombs on Tokyo before finding himself in Japanese-occupied China. Meanwhile, Japan's admirals (Asano, Toyokawa and Kunimura) have the Americans outnumbered and outgunned.
There are plot strands galore, edited roughly as if this was cut down from a much longer movie. Some threads are lost along the way, while others feel forced (including scenes with wives in Hawaii). But cross-cutting to Japanese admirals adds a more honest take on the nature of warfare. And the solid cast helps keep the vast number of characters straight in ways the swarm of planes in the sky never is. They also help anchor the relentless onslaught of digital animation.
The actors are all watchable, lending varying levels of machismo and heroism, plus some enjoyable subtext. At the centre, Skrein finds superb bluster in his New Yawk accent, daredevil piloting and feisty wife (Moore, shoehorned in). Harrelson struggles to drum up some gravitas, but finds spark in his interaction with Wilson's intelligence nerd. Evans has a strong presence in a role that seems choppily edited, while the charismatic Criss and Jonas get the film's best moments. And Asano, Toyokawa and Kunimura never let the Japanese become villains.
Scenes among the Japanese, plus an off-plot sideroad into China, keep Emmerich's tendency toward overwrought patriotism in check. And it's perhaps surprising that the various rousing speeches are delivered quietly and personally. Of course, the main event is the aerial action, so there's a sense that the connective dramatic tissue has been whittled back to the bare necessity. Perhaps the strands would make more narrative sense fleshed out in a TV miniseries. But as a bluntly told tale of a battle that turned the tide, this still gets the adrenaline pumping.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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