World War II as in WWII. Those four little letters elicit undeniable and heavily laden emotions filled with pride for “the greatest generation” to which my father, a WW II Army Air Corps veteran who saw Italy and Europe from the glass bubble of a B17 Bomber—a ball turret gunner—belonged.
Finding a film that accurately and adequately portrays these heroes is tough to find, but “Midway,” starring Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, and Woody Harrelson gives those of us who have only looked in the rear view mirror of life to learn about this important and pivotal battle immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a sense of reality.
It opens this weekend at Meadowview Theatre in Kankakee and Movies 10 in Bradley.
“Midway,” written by Wes Tooke and directed by Roland Emmerich, plunges us into the catastrophic events of Dec. 7, 1941, on the Hawaiian Island Oahu. Sailors are desperately attempting to save one another, families of these men seek safety while wondering about their loved ones possible demise.
It’s a horror film of reality during and after the bombing, as the remains are sorted, trying to identify those who were lost. The war has begun and to thwart the Japanese from gaining access and control of the United States, the Intelligence department and naval leaders must stay ahead of their enemy and even defy Washington to turn the course of history in a new direction.
Even if you already know this story, “Midway” brings it to life, connecting us to not only the heroes such as Lieutenant Richard ‘Dick’ Best (Skrein), Admiral Chester Nimitz (Harrelson), Vice Admiral William ‘Bull’ Halsey (Dennis Quaid), and Lieutenant Clarence Earle Dickinson (Luke Kleintank), but also to history itself, giving us a greater understanding and appreciation for those who have served or currently do.
This film focuses upon Best whose daredevil persona pushes the envelope of life and his superiors. As battles wage on, Edwin Layton’s (Wilson) team of decoders intercept and begin to develop a plan that is in opposition of Washington’s experts’ advice.
It’s this antagonistic relationship between Washington officers and those on the ground that highlight the trust and camaraderie among these men. Led by Best, we get a sense of each of these men’s personalities, what drives them, and who they are at their very core.
Bruno Gaido’s (Nick Jonas) resolution and ideals stand out in this story as does Best’s leadership and how the heaviness his responsibilities impact his mind, body, and soul.
“Midway” is riveting at every turn, watching the officers play a game of chess and guess, conflicted as they trust their instincts knowing that it could result in losing not just men, but friends. Filled with incredible dog fights and dive bombings, I found myself holding my breath, captivated by the events unfolding before me, not sure of what was CGI and what was not, but never questioning the reality of it all.
Skrein holds the reigns on this difficult piece of history, charging forth with the utmost care in portraying real life hero, Dick Best. He’s strong, courageous, but also has a heart and a love of his life at home with his wife and daughter.
Feeling the weight of the world, his eyes convey what mere words could never do. Kleintank, Jonas, Quaid, Evans, Wilson and Harrelson find and accentuate elements of each of these real men, these real heroes, to allow viewers to know them, as well.
The film also attempts to give us a better understanding of the Japanese soldiers and their motivations, but unfortunately, this is where the film falls short. This is told from U.S. Navy sailors’ point of view, skewing and pulling the rug of credibility out of the story.
Thankfully, this is not a large part of the film, but it is nonetheless a distraction from a celebration of the heroes that changed the course of WW II, including the unlikely man in a bathrobe deciphering bits and pieces of Japanese code, Joseph Rochefort (Brennan Brown).
Directed by Emmerich who proved his artistic abilities in explosive technology with “Independence Day” (2016, 1996) finds a more eloquent direction with “Midway.” While there are plenty of explosions and combat scenes, they are with a purpose and the appropriate intensity as he allows the story to be human story, not just one about battles.
“Midway” is a film to give a new generation an important lesson in history; one that feels alive and one that will connect you with the heroes from The Battle of Midway. The film’s incredible cinematography and character portrayals give us a clear picture of many of these WWII veterans and their resiliency despite the odds.
3 1/2 stars