Sunday 24 November 2019

Midway by Wes Tooke

It's hard to get a movie like this right — a fact based war story with an epic scale which needs to balance thrills with historical accuracy. Just look at the terrible Pearl Harbour, directed by Michael Bay in 2001.

Midway covers similar material. It begins with the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbour then, like the Michael Bay film, follows with the Doolittle raid — a revenge bombing attack by the US on Tokyo. (Is it wrong of me to note that Pearl Harbour was a military target but Tokyo was a civilian one?)

Midway, however, then progresses to the title incident, the Battle of Midway which I previously knew nothing about. The American navy sets a trap for the Japanese navy, luring them into an ambush near the Midway Islands and inflicting a major defeat on them.

So much for history — what is this film like? Well, it's really rather terrific. I was wary of it because it's directed by Roland Emmerich, whom I associate with empty, mindless spectacle (Godzilla, 10,000 BC).

But it turns out that he can also direct spectacle which is neither empty nor mindless. 
Midway is an admirable blend of large scale events and small human detail. It also does an impressive job of mixing explicit action with behind the scenes strategic planning and intelligence gathering.

All this is thanks to an excellent screenplay by Wes Tooke. With a track record in television drama, it's his first feature film script but I very much doubt it will be the last. This is an exceptional movie.

And perhaps the most unusual thing about Midway (and quite unexpected in a Roland Emmerich production) is the very refreshing strain of realism in the film. 

It really gets across how incredibly difficult it was to score a hit on your target — even a a target as big as a Japanese aircraft carrier — whether you're a submarine firing a torpedo or a dive bomber plunging nose first into a hellish maelstrom of anti-aircraft fire.

In fact, the film scores highly on authenticity throughout. Even some of the most outlandish incidents turn out to be historical fact — as discussed here.

In the end, though, one of the images that remains most strongly with me is the squadron of Japanese planes forlornly circling their destroyed ship like birds returning to find that their nest is gone...

(Image credits: a plenitude of posters at Imp Awards.)

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