My bride and I and our son went to see Midway last Saturday. We all enjoyed it. I highly recommend it. Here follows the review with the usual caveats that there are spoilers ahead.
Most movies regarding historical events tend not to be enjoyed by me as I can usually spot the mangling of history. In regard to Midway I was surprised that the history is largely accurate and that the movie spends almost no time on the soap opera elements that usually overshadow the history in historical film epics. The movie does not simply focus on the battle of Midway but rather traces the history of the Pacific War from Pearl Harbor to Midway, with substantial attention paid to both Pearl Harbor and the Doolittle raid on Tokyo. The film focuses on both the Americans and the Japanese, using the method pioneered in Tora, Tora, Tora (1970) to show us how the military situation was viewed by the high command of the Japanese and US Navies in their death struggle in the Pacific.
The film begins with Lieutenant Edwin Layton, portrayed by Patrick Wilson, serving as an American naval attache in Tokyo, having a conversation with Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, portrayed by Etsushi Toyokawa, about the possibility of war between Japan and the US. Yamamoto had studied at Harvard and served as a Japanese naval attache in Washington. He understands the power of the US and realizes that a long war with the US could only end in defeat for Japan. Both men hope that war can be avoided, but both are pessimistic.
The film then switches to Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 with Layton witnessing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Yamamoto in Japan, in reaction to Pearl Harbor, repeats the apocryphal line from Tora, Tora, Tora: I fear all we have done is to rouse a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.
In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the opposite number of Admiral Yamamoto appears at Pearl Harbor to take command of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester Nimitz. Woody Harrelson gives a perfect performance as Nimitz, accurately portraying him as a quiet man, with flashes of humor, wearing the burden of command lightly. One of his first decisions is to have Admiral William “Bull” Halsey lead a task force centered on the carrier Enterprise in a hit and run raid on the Japanese held Marshall Islands, a good strategy to keep the Japanese off balance. Dennis Quaid gives an on target portrayal of Halsey, portraying him as both tough and intelligent. After the raid, the film has Halsey announcing to the fleet that it is time for the run part of the hit and run operation, with the immortal phrase: Time to haul ass with Halsey!, which would be the proud boast of many American sailors after the War who participated in these operations.
The Doolittle raid on Tokyo is featured in the film. Seeing the B-25B Mitchells lined up on the carrier Hornet reminded me, once again, what a daring, not to say crazy, idea it was. However, the morale boost was worth it. Aaron Eckhart gives us a portrayal of Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle with panache. The film notes at the end that the last of the Doolittle Raiders passed away this year, and that they held annual reunions until 2013.
Edwin Layton, now a Lieutenant Commander, is working for Nimitz trying to figure out where the Japanese fleet will strike next. Layton convinces him of the worth of the Navy codebreakers under the command of Commander Joseph Rochefort, portrayed by actor Brennan Brown, best known for his role in The Man in the High Castle as antique store owner Robert Childan. Rochefort is depicted as a true eccentric, working in a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, but he gets results. He reports that Midway is the target of the Japanese fleet after his team intercepts a Japanese report that the target of their attack is running short on water, a false report about Midway released in the clear by the Allies.
Throughout the film we follow the pilots on the carrier Enterprise, focusing on Lieutenant Dick Best, portrayed by Ed Skrein, executive officer of Bombing Squadron 6, and Lieutenant Commander Wade McCluskey, portrayed by Luke Evans, air group commander of the Enterprise.
A friend of mine, Art Leach, is one of the very few surviving carrier pilots of the Pacific war. What bulks large in his memory is how easy it was to die in carrier operations without taking combat into consideration. Taking off and landing on a carrier were more art than science. Finding your way back to the carrier was often difficult in bad weather and extremely difficult in night operations. Landing on a carrier at night was always a hair raising proposition. The planes were extremely complicated devices being in use constantly under adverse conditions, and any malfunction could quickly cause a pilot to go down in the watery wastes of the Pacific. The simple truth is that the technology envelope in carrier operations was being pushed to the breaking point during World War II, especially during the early years. Midway took place less than four decades after the Wright Brothers at Kittyhawk and simple flying itself was still not a place for those who prized longevity above all else. The film, in harrowing detail, depicts this aspect of the life, and death, of carrier pilots well.
The battle of Midway itself is quite well done, with the film doing a good job of explaining the complicated set of attacks which led to the sinking of four Japanese fleet carriers, in exchange for one US fleet carrier, and the abrupt ending of Japanese naval dominance in the Pacific. The CGI effects, by and large are excellent, and succeed in putting the viewer into the seats of the planes as they engage in their roller coaster attack runs. The victory at Midway ended on June 7, 1942, six months to the day from Pearl Harbor.
I recommend the film to anyone interested in the history. With the exception of a few instances of rough language, natural enough among military men in a war film, the film is a must see for home schooled students, or any students. The film is also simply a very exciting well made film. The negative reviews of it, and there are plenty, demonstrates how ill educated many current reviewers are as to history, and how alienated they are from their own nation and a film which depicts Americans in a positive light. More is the pity for them.