(2 of 3)
Small point, but illustrative of the movie's storytelling license: in early December it was not the whole Japanese fleet that had gone missing to U.S. intelligence, it was four carriers. So Admiral Husband Kimmel didn't say to his aide, "The entire fleet could be rounding Diamond Head right now, and we wouldn't know a goddam thing about it" but rather, "Do you mean to say they"--meaning the four ships--"could be rounding Diamond Head, and you wouldn't know it?"
A controversial figure in the Pearl Harbor saga was a mess attendant on the West Virginia named Doris Miller. Cuba Gooding Jr.'s portrayal of him rubber-stamps the legend while ignoring other versions of the Miller story. In the movie, Miller comforts the dying Captain Mervyn Bennion, then locks onto an antiaircraft gun, blasts away and makes a kill. In reality, Miller, the ship's boxing champion, who was regarded as something of a bully, was recruited to help move Bennion out of harm's way. A man who did comfort the captain was Ensign Victor Delano, and it was Delano who managed to get two machine guns working forward of the conning tower, then showed Miller how to operate one. Nearly 60 years after the attack, Delano, 81, remembers, "I didn't see any planes shot down from our ship. If Miller did get one, it was an accident. He didn't know how to shoot that gun." Some survivors recall Miller as more of a nuisance on deck than a hero, but regardless, the Tale of the Intrepid Messmate was passed along, and Miller was awarded the Navy Cross. He died later in the war when the ship he was on was sunk. Says Bruckheimer: "Whether or not he shot down one or two planes, or no planes at all, he was a brave and honorable man who risked his life for his fellow sailors and his country."
We might have known the filmmakers were playing loose with President Roosevelt when they cast someone other than Edward Herrmann in the role. While Jon Voight's impersonation has a certain fidelity, his actions do not. There are little things--Roosevelt was actually in his study, not a hallway, when told of the attack--and then there's that whopper with the wheelchair. During a Cabinet meeting after the attack in the film, the crippled F.D.R. struggles to his feet in order to impress upon his lily-livered Cabinet the need for courage in the face of adversity. Bay and screenwriter Randall Wallace, with good old show-biz chutzpah, maintain that if such a scene did not happen in real life, it should have.
Some of the movie's harshest critics have been nonetheless wowed by its centerpiece battle scene. It is, surely, stunning. It is also confusing: you can't tell which boat you are on, which airfield you're at, what's blowing up. In a sense, this mimics the horrifying confusion of the day. But it doesn't allow you to understand what happened and how quickly it happened: 40 minutes for the first wave of the attack, 36 for the second, the last Japanese planes heading north by 9:30 a.m. And, of course, in a PG-13 film the imagery can only hint at the gruesomeness of the carnage. Photographs from the day show the true hell of Pearl Harbor--blown-apart boats and bodies, oil fires everywhere, the sea aflame. Bay's bay is, by contrast, vivid, colorful, almost clean.