Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Film Review: Midway (2019)

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

The secret to enjoying this movie is to watch it like a documentary.

Midway is the story of one of the most pivotal battles in American history.  The Japanese successfully pulled off their sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, severely wounding the American navy.  If the enemy was able to get a further foothold in the Pacific, they could invade Hawaii and then proceed to terrorize the West Coast of the US.  The stakes for the counter-offensive could not have been higher.

The movie is an ensemble piece that follows a variety of different characters including:

Dick Best (Ed Skrein): a hotshot pilot who lost his best friend at Pearl Harbor
Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson): an intelligence officer who is in charge of predicting where the Japanese fleet will move.
Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson): The reluctant commander of the Pacific fleet in charge of pushing back the Japanese.
Ann Best (Mandy Moore): Dick's devoted and resilient wife.
James Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart): the leader of the counter-attack bombing run on Tokyo.
Admiral Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa): a war-weary commander who is a commander in the Japanese fleet.

There are several other parts played by actors like Dennis Quaid and Nick Jonas.  The cast is sprawling and impressive, but that is also part of its problem.  The movie has too big a subject for too small a time.  There are so many characters and storylines, that it requires something like a mini-series in order to resolve all of the story elements.  I couldn't help but feel so much of the movie was left on the cutting room floor.  Any single storyline could be a movie unto itself.

If there is a central character, it would be Dick Best.  This is the other major flaw of the film.  Skrein is a decent actor, but his '40's American accent is so jarring, he feels like a caricature of a GI being done on a British sketch show.  His performance of Best never really connects, which is a big problem, since he is the one who is supposed to hold the movie together.

But despite those two flaws, the movie was moving and enjoyable.  You can tell that writer Wes Tooke worked hard to get the history correct in this story.  What he is attempting to show is that the battle was undertaken not just by the commanders or the pilots, but every person was needed to meet the enemy.  He captured the courage and patriotism of the day.  This is a story that reminds us that though the commanders make the plans, it is the individual soldiers that determine victory or defeat on the battlefield.   He takes you into the sometimes horrific consequences of putting yourself on the line for your country.  You can see this especially in the aftermath of the Doolittle raid.

As written above, the stakes were incredibly high.  The American pilots were outnumbered and they had to take a big risk on anticipating the movement of the Japanese fleet.  The tension to the build up of the battle is intense.

Besides Skrein, the rest of the cast is actually quite good.  Harrelson actually comes off as stately and strong as Nimitz.  Wilson gives Layton a subtle strength underneath his bookish exterior.  Moore adds a lot of heart to Best's storyline.  Toyokawa has a fatalistic melancholy of a man who knows better than his superiors, but is honor-bound to fulfill his duty.

Director Roland Emmerich does an excellent job recreating the look and feel of the time.  There is a little too much CGI, but he makes this $100 million dollar movie look like it was made for $200 million.  The vistas are grand and epic and the battles are visceral and exciting.  I was on the edge of my seat, despite knowing the historical outcome.  You will feel a strong sense of awe at how men had to fly straight into hellfire at just the possibility of turning the tide.

This movie made me want to follow up and learn more about this time in history and brave Americans who stood in the way of evil taking over the world.  And that is a testament to the strength of Midway.


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