'Midway' is a staggering history lesson dominated by combat, not characters

Dick Best (Ed Skrein, left) and Clarence Dickinson (Luke Kleintank, right) in MIDWAY. (Photo: Lionsgate)

3 out of 5 Stars
Roland Emmerich
Writers: Wes Tooke
Starring: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans
Genre: Action, History
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of war violence and related images, language and smoking

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: The months following the attack on Pearl Harbor and The Battle of Midway told from a variety of American and Japanese points of view.

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Review: There is a lot that I don’t know about the Pacific War. It began with Pearl Harbor and ended with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Everything in the middle is a bit hazy.

Of course, that’s over simplifying things. The war in the Pacific was born from America cutting off Japan’s access to oil-a fact that is made clear in the opening scenes of “Midway.” There’s a lot more to Pearl Harbor than they teach us in schools.

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There are a lot of things that I either learned or better understand because of “Midway.” It's an incredibly flawed film, but also an incredibly educational experience. The same can’t be said for Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor.” The film’s cinematic highlights are the battle sequences; an overwhelming barrage of fire, steel and sea. The death toll is understandable. How anyone survived at all is almost unfathomable. Director Roland Emmerich certainly knows how to craft an action sequence.

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The film’s strongest story features Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson), an intelligent agent who saw the writing on the wall and was miles ahead of his superiors in Washington D.C. He eventually earned the trust of Admiral Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) and changed the course of history.

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The film’s central narrative is pinned on Lieutenant Richard 'Dick' Best (Ed Skrein), a relatively unknown pilot who (at least according to Wes Tooke’s screenplay) played a massive role in the Battle of Midway. I’m never convinced by Skrein’s performance and would have liked more time with the character outside of his military life. Best isn’t the only character that needed more screen time. The same could be said for just about every character in the film. I connect with them on the most simplistic of levels, but a deeper understanding would give the movie a stronger sense of tension. I want to feel something intimate and personal that can’t be felt from reading a history book.

We find ourselves at a cinematic crossroads. “Midway” is by its nature a theatrical film. It simply wouldn't have the same impact on a small screen. “Midway” is also a movie that would be far better as a ten-hour experience that gave the likes of Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart) and Bruno Gaido (Nick Jonas) the attention they likely deserve. Is there a place where we can have both? We’ll binge series from our couches and beds. Would audiences be willing to invest the same amount of time in a theater? Is it impossible to have the best of both worlds?

Ultimately, “Midway” is a roller-coaster experience. I would have preferred something that went far deeper into the characters, but even this skim across the surface educated and entertained me.

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