It will come as no surprise to any regular reader of this blog to learn that I recently saw the movie, Midway, a film that I highly recommend, as it achieved success on the three levels that matter in historical films.
First, it was quite historically accurate, at least, based on my reading. It was not only accurate in terms of the details of the battle, but also in terms of the details of everyday life. The filmmakers got the labels correct on the beer bottles, for example. The filmmakers also let the facts speak for themselves. A brief conversation takes place among several American pilots about the poor quality of American torpedoes. The conversation was not forced in order to cram in another fact. No attention was called to the faulty torpedoes solely in order to let the audience know that the filmmaker knows a bunch of facts. To this end, I found it helpful to have read about the state of the American Navy in the spring of 1942, and about the battle itself. You don’t need to read up on your history, however, in order to follow the story.
One nice historical touch worthy of note was incorporating filmmaker John Ford’s presence on Midway Island. He was there to film a documentary for the Navy and is caught on the island during the Japanese attack. What truly made this scene special was the fact that the theater in which I saw the film (Alamo Drafthouse in Winchester) showed Ford’s The Battle of Midway documentary before the feature began.
Second, the special effects were outstanding. I felt as if I was in an American dive bomber, and not at all as if I was in a theater watching a bunch of special effects.
Third, the special effects were enhanced because, as spectacular as they are, they were subordinated to the acting, which reminded me of what you might see in a movie from say, 1942. The anguished glance of a wife directed toward her husband; the sickened, but angry expression of a sailor cruising back into Pearl Harbor on December 8th; the worried look exchanged between commanders; the fear on a pilot’s face—this subtle, but superb acting is what brought the spirit of the time and the tension of the campaign and subsequent battle to life.
If you have any interest in World War II history, this is a must-see film. If you simply enjoy good film making and great acting, I highly recommend Midway.
One final note: Friends have asked me if I “liked it better” than the 1976 Midway, but this is not quite a fair question. Although the subject is the same, they are two different movies. The 1976 version is a bit broader in scope, while the 2019 film is more personal. The best thing I can tell you is to see them both.