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MIDWAY: "Every battle needs a miracle"

Until the credits rolled in “Midway,” I was sure the character of hotshot pilot Dick Best had been invented for dramatic effect.

But I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn otherwise; pretty much everything involving that battle remains incredible -- and the new movie isn’t shy about this. Or about the old-fashioned heroics that turned the tide in our struggle with Japan during World War II.

Directed by action veteran Roland Emmerich (“The Patriot,” “Stargate,” “Independence Day”), the film has been widely panned by critics -- but I found it well acted and exciting, with a broad historical canvas that includes Pearl Harbor, code-breaking, Japanese war games, Doolittle’s raid and of course the desperate battle at Midway, in which both sides sought mostly to take out the enemy’s aircraft carriers.

Ill-equipped, hopelessly outnumbered and often flying well beyond their range, intrepid American pilots somehow found and wrecked all four enemy fleet carriers, inflicting irreparable damage in what historian John Keegan called “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”

Many critics harped on this movie’s computer graphics, which certainly aren’t on par with, for example, “Star Wars” or “Avengers.” Much of it looks too polished and synthetic -- but for some reason, this didn’t bother me.

I guess I was willing to cut the visuals some slack, in part because of my long-standing interest in the battle, but mostly because there was simply no other way to make this movie on a modest $60 million budget. Unless the studios wanted to put up four times that, as they did for “Avatar” -- or nine times that for “Endgame” -- Emmerich and crew obviously couldn’t build all those ships and planes, or bathe every battle in costly hyper-realism.

If you can get past that, you’ll find much to like. The solid cast includes Ed Skrein as Best; Dennis Quaid as Admiral Halsey; Patrick Wilson as cryptographer Edwin Layton; Luke Evans as group commander McClusky; and Aaron Eckhart as Doolittle. Especially notable is newbie Nick Jonas -- of pop music’s Jonas Brothers -- as a courageous machinist who actually was invented for the film; and Woody Harrelson, absolutely first rate as the legendary Admiral Nimitz. Who would’ve thought the dim-witted bartender from “Cheers” could eventually pull off a commanding performance like this?

Even better is the movie’s nonstop action -- one real-life battle after another, filmed with breathtaking clarity and excitement. Since the movie begins with the vicious attack on Pearl Harbor, we are swept away in the Americans’ quest to respond with a decisive blow. Intensely patriotic, the movie nonetheless refuses to paint the enemy with a broad black brush. For me, “Midway’s” strongest emotions came when one Japanese crew realizes at last that they have lost the battle and must abandon their one surviving carrier.

As an American officer puts it early on, “Every battle needs a miracle.” Midway had several -- and though this movie never rises to the level of miraculous, it certainly shines a bright, clear light on that historic conflict.


directed by Roland Emmerich

Run time: 138 min.

* * * 1/2 (out of four)

Rated PG-13 for violence and language

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