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One of the best war films ever made, although harmed by the bad use of war footage
on 28 March 2012
Although fully aware of its weak spots, I give "Midway" full five stars, because I believe this is one of the best reconstructions of major battles in history of cinema, the others being "Tora, Tora, Tora", "The longest day" and "Waterloo".
I agree with most of the negative comments on the war footage used in this film, with the presence of at least one jet plane from Korea War in one scene being possibly the most damning. Wildcats magically transforming into Hellcats and SBDs turning into Avengers in the blink of an eye are also quite annoying! Many of the fighting sequences could and should have been much better done and the use of some footage from "Tora, Tora, Tora" should have been avoided. However, except if you are really good at recognizing WWII warbirds, those points are finally not so important, as the focus of the film is to show all the major (and sometimes minor) decisions which affected the outcome of this fight and which made Midway such a unique and dramatic battle. And as far as this aspect is concerned, the film is a great success!
It begins already with the enormous error committed by Yamamoto when planning the whole operation; we realize it in the scene in which admiral Hosogaya says "This time the god of battles conceived a monster". This criticism is officially adressed to the junior officer who presents the plan - but in fact it is (by Japanese standards) an extremely direct attack against Yamamoto himself. But with admirals Nagumo and Yamaguchi remaining silent during the discussion, the plan remains unchanged; and for that reason, out of EIGHT carriers available, Nagumo will have only four with him at Midway to fight against three American ships... The absence of "Zuikaku" (kept in Japan), "Zuiho" (affected to escort the transports), "Ryujo" and "Junyo" (both send stupidly after secondary targets) cost the Japanese dearly... The scene continues with Admiral Yamaguchi raising another, even more important objection - what if Japanese carriers are forced to fight in the same time land based planes from Midway and carrier based planes of US Navy? This possibility is not given as much attention as it should - and the result is that this is exactly what will happen!
I will not of course describe here all the twists and turns, but one thing is clear - this film shows almost perfectly how the whole situation evolved and how finally the side which committed less mistakes (and which was also just a tiny little bit more lucky) carried the day. And it also pictures ADMIRABLY the proverbial "fog of war", when both sides are like boxers fighting blindfolded - with the first who manages to locate the enemy obtaining a great advantage...
The second reason why I give to this film five stars, is the casting. It is simply a constellation of great stars of world cinema, and they all do a hell of a job! Let's just enumerate some:
- Henry Fonda, as Admiral Nimitz
- Robert Mitchum, as Admiral Halsey
- Glenn Ford, as Admiral Spruance
- Toshiro Mifune, as Admiral Yamamoto
- Charlton Heston, as Captain Matt Garth (one of the very few fictional characters in the film)
- and then James Coburn, Robert Wagner, Joseph Shigeta (remember him from "Die Hard"?) as Admiral Nagumo, Cliff Robertson, Hal Holbrook and Erik Estrada in lesser roles. And let's not forget Tom Selleck in one of his first appearances on the screen...
I was particularly impressed by Henry Fonda's performance as Nimitz - his olympic calm and dignity and also a deep wisdom permit to understand why this admiral was such a great leader of men. James Shigeta is even better in his role of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, a man send to fight a battle much tougher than his superiors (and himself) expected and who is under an incredible, regularly increasing pressure...
As for the inaccuracies, most of them are rather imperceptible except for people who really know the details of this battle - like for example the planes from USS "Yorktown" attacking "Kaga", when in the real battle they attacked "Soryu"... But there is also ONE very very big blunder concerning Lieutenant Joichi Tomonaga, Japanese leader in two out of three attacks launched during this battle. Although taking off to the second attack with a damaged plane which couldn't make it back home (and thus knowing that he would die or be captured), Tomonaga absolutely did NOT launch his plane against USS "Yorktown"! Also, he was 30 years old in June 1942, but in this film, he is played by an actor who looks easily like pushing 45...
It is also true, that there was a TV version of this film, which was longer, with the battle of Coral Sea briefly covered and an extra love story added. But frankly, I believe that the cinema version, with the wonderfully filmed Doolittle's Raid as the beginning and with only limited time devoted to private life, is actually better. I regret however that in the film there is no mention of the ultimate fate of USS "Yorktown" (a short conversation of 30 seconds would be enough) and of the final (and in my opinion very stupid) decision made by Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi towards the end of the battle.
Last but not least - in the film it is stressed, that at Midway Americans were outnumbered. Well, that is FALSE! Certainly, the Japanese had four carriers ("Kaga", "Akagi", "Hiryu" and "Soryu") against three for Americans (USS "Enterprise", USS "Hornet", USS "Yorktown") but counting the planes, Americans had the numbers for them: 233 carrier based planes + 127 planes from Midway = 360 planes as opposed to Japanese 248 carrier based planes. In fact, Midway was decided at least partly because in planes Americans OUTNUMBERED the Japanese 3:2.
But, bottom line, weaker points notwithstanding I still consider "Midway" as one of the greatest war films ever made, because of an excellent, very dramatic, very clear and very complete description of all the key moments of this unique and incredible battle. For my personal taste, this is the third best war film ever - only "The longest day" and "Tora, tora, tora" did better. I watched it many times and I never got bored - even for one minute! Enjoy!