A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Both sides of the Pearl Harbor attack are shown; care is taken to show the Japanese motives for launching the surprise attack. All the patriotic heartstrings are pulled with every trick in the Hollywood playbook, but what emerges is a strong sense of the people who fought at Pearl Harbor and in World War II, their bravery in defending America from fascism, making the event come to life from the pages of history.
Positive Role Models
The pilots at Pearl Harbor who later flew in the Doolittle raid that surprised Japan and restored morale to an America devastated by the losses at Pearl Harbor are shown to be brave and selfless in the interests of defending their country. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is shown to be a commanding and decisive leader, demanding more than what the military brass say is possible in the weeks after Pearl Harbor. Tells the story of the first African-American man to earn the Naval Cross.
Violence & Scariness
Intense battle scenes, many injuries and deaths, some graphic. Sailors on battleships shown drowning, burning, falling off the ships as they capsize and sink. Plane crashes. Hospital blood, intense injuries -- a nurse places her fingers into the neck wound of a man profusely bleeding. Gunfights between American and Japanese soldiers, grenades thrown. A disheveled farmer hits his son and knocks him to the ground; the boy's best friend strikes the farmer with a two-by-four.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some innuendo between female nurses and male pilots. Nonsexual male nudity when nurses give shots in the buttocks in the infirmary. A couple decides not to have sex because they don't want to have any regrets. Another couple does have sex, and the woman becomes pregnant.
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Occasional profanity: "son of a bitch," "bulls--t," "t-tties," "damn," "piss," "crap." A Japanese-American doctor is called a "Jap" by a racist white soldier. Some sexual innuendo between male sailors and female nurses.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Soldiers drunk at a bar. An exchange of words between a drunk naval pilot with his best friend turns into a violent bar fight, punches thrown, tables and chairs thrown and knocked over, glass breaking. They are shown the next morning in a car passed out, waking up hungover. Champagne, whisky, sake drinking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Pearl Harbor is a three-hour Michael Bay war movie about the surprise attack that led to America's entrance into World War II. The movie features extended and intense battle violence with thousands of casualties, including characters we care about. Soldiers use profanity ("son of a bitch," "bulls--t," "t-tties," "damn") and joke about seduction techniques. A couple decides not to have sex because they don't want to have any regrets. Another couple does have sex, and the woman becomes pregnant. There is some drinking and drunkenness. Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays a real-life hero of World War II, the first black man to win the Navy Cross. It's worth mentioning that the movie attempts to show Japan not just as "the enemy," but also as soldiers and leaders who had families and loved ones who were somewhat ambivalent about launching the attack. In one scene, an injured American soldier yells that he doesn't want to be treated by a "Jap" -- his prejudice the smallest hint of the Japanese-American internment camps that, for all the heroism and sacrifice in so many other ways, would be one of the most shameful aspects of American involvement in World War II. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Director Michael Bay has visual flair and superb command of action sequences. Dan Ackroyd is fine as an intelligence officer and Jon Voight shows us FDR's compassion, political skill, and intelligence. Affleck, Hartnett, and Beckinsale look gorgeous and do their best to give some depth to the cardboard characters, but they cannot overcome a soapy plot and dialogue that is often wooden and sometimes wildly anachronistic. Pearl Harbor fails to provide any sense of the reason for the conflict, and it bends over backward to be fair to the Japanese, portraying them as brave and loyal. But it is also dismayingly U.S.-centric, showing (inaccurately) both the English and the Japanese in awe of American spirit and strength.
But both the love story and the war story here have a synthetic feel to them that doesn't permit us to care enough. Like Titanic, Pearl Harbor ties a love story to a catastrophe, with the theory that if it can make us care, make us gasp, and make us cry, they'll have a box-office bonanza. It's worth seeing -- but only once.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.