A couple of farm boys who have always been obsessed with flying, best friends Rafe McCawley (BEN AFLECK) and Danny Walker (JOSH HARTNETT) join the American Air Force and by 1941 have gained a reputation as excellent, if foolhardy, fliers. McCawley soon meets beautiful Navy Nurse Evelyn Johnson (KATE BECKINSALE) just before his request to aid the struggling RAF in the Battle Of Britain is granted by Squadron Leader James Doolittle (ALEC BALDWIN).
With McCawley away and soon posted as missing, presumed dead, love slowly blossoms between grief stricken Danny and Evelyn. When Rafe turns up unexpectedly several months later very much alive and determined to rekindle his relationship with Evelyn, he finds himself in an awkward love triangle and tension between the trio soon reaches breaking point.
Yet war is looming. Japan, crippled by embargos of essential raw materials imposed by America, decided to go on the military offensive, relying on Admiral Yamamoto (MAKO) and Commander Genda (CARY HIROYUKI TAGAWA) to devise a brilliant strategy - the destruction of the entire American Pacific Fleet as it lies at anchor in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbour.
American military intelligence analysist Captain Thurman (DAN ACKROYD) is convinced hostilities are imminent while President Roosevelt (JOHN VOIGHT) and Pearl Harbour naval commander Admiral Kimmel (COLM FEORE) also share his misgivings.
Then, early on a clear Sunday morning, hundreds of Japanese aircraft dive onto the peaceful island of Oahu to devastate the sleeping fleet and finally drag American into the Second World War.
PEARL HARBOR is actually a film of two halves. The first is primarily a romance, setting the scene and establishing the love triangle between Rafe, Evelyn and Danny. Certainly this will have action fans screaming at the screen, willing the slushiness to end and hostilities begin.
When the Japanese forces do finally attack the Harbour, things move up a gear dramatically. Director MICHAEL BAY loves his explosions and here he has them. Lots of them! The attack itself is truly spectacular to experience. We follow a torpedo from launch to its detonation against an American vessel, as well as a falling bomb all the way down to the deck of the doomed Battleship USS Arizona. Warships capsize, planes bomb and strafe in a superb blend of real and CGI footage. While at times it may feel a little too much like a computer game we are witnessing, it is at least very exciting stuff.
BAY, to his credit, also shows the Human loss in the aftermath of the attack and pulls no punches in depicting the horrors of war in traumatic hospital scenes and with trapped, drowning sailors.
Yet it says much for modern Hollywood when it dislikes anything which smacks of an American defeat, so the final part of the film depicts the famous Doolittle bombing raid against Japan. More poignant would have been a downbeat ending like with the classic TORA! TORA! TORA! - a film which gives a fairer and more historically correct depiction of the fateful Day Of Infamy.
PEARL HARBOR, for all its scope and epic feel, is sadly riddled with numerous inaccuracies which will undoubtedly confound students of history. These range from ignoring key characters such as Admiral Nagumo (who led the Japanese Task Force) to the actual length of the attack itself and even the colour schemes of the aircraft involved.
However, I believe the film was never meant to portray a true history lesson and BAY went for spectacle over realism. In this he certainly delivers!