Thursday, February 14, 2013

1942 - Wake Island

A few days ago, I offered my thoughts on the supporting performance categories at this year's Academy Awards. Today, let's look at the two leading actor categories.

The Best Actor award is Daniel Day-Lewis' to lose. His performance in Lincoln has swept just about every industry and critic's award so far this season. An Oscar win this year would not only earn him a rare third acting Oscar (only five others have achieved that feat) but it would also mean he had won thrice in the leading role category, placing him second only to Katherine Hepburn, whose four awards were all for Best Actress. Hugh Jackman is perhaps his closest rival for the award, but it doesn't look good for Wolverine.

Best Actress is more competitive, essentially a toss-up between Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty and Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook. Both won Golden Globes for their performances, but Lawrence won the SAG award. (Unexpectedly, Emmanuelle Riva won the BAFTA, but I rate her chances for an upset at the Oscars rather low.) It's tough to separate these two fine actresses, but knowing the Academy's lack of love for comedy films - and despite Silver Linings Playbook's dramatic overtones, it is still far more comedic than any other major Oscar contender this year - the pendulum may well swing towards Chastain.

Meanwhile, our review of 1942's Best Picture Oscar nominees continues with...

Wake Island
John Farrow
W.R. Burnett and Frank Butler
Brian Donlevy, Macdonald Carey, Robert Preston, Albert Dekker, William Bendix, Walter Abel
Academy Awards:
4 nominations
0 wins

Wake Island is the true story of the US Marines attempt at securing the eponymous island at the heels of constant Japanese attacks. Released within a year of the actual events depicted, the film centres on two Marines, Private Doyle (Preston) and Private Randall (Bendix), two troublemakers who dream of life after the war. The new man in charge, Major Geoffrey Caton (Donlevy), commands coolly yet sternly, locking horns with civilian Shad McClosky (Dekker), who has a military contract to build the squadron's trenches. The day Randall is scheduled to be discharged, word arrives that the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, and thus the prolonged battle begins for those stationed at Wake Island.

There's certainly no denying Wake Island is an action film. The battle scenes are plentiful and epic. Initially, though, they feel slightly by-the-numbers, more concerned with presenting as many explosions as possible rather than delivering genuinely exciting action. It doesn't help that these sequences are a tad difficult to follow - there are so many individual shots of planes flying around and closeups of pilots, without any wide shots to properly identify everyone's relative location. And when all we see is a closeup of a bomb being released followed by an explosion, it's somewhat unclear as to which plane released the bomb and which one exploded. To be fair, this confusion is perhaps the result of budgetary and, more likely, technological constraints, rather than lacklustre direction. On the other hand, a lack of money and technology is no excuse for a seated man, when shot at close range, to rise out of his chair before fatally falling to the floor. That's just cheesy.

Nonetheless, the action eventually hits it stride in the sequence in which Major Caton waits for the Japanese ships to approach before ordering his men to fire. As the ships get closer and closer, the suspense is almost unbearable. The film effectively holds on to this suspense as the squadron continues to hold off the Japanese assault, attack after attack, for the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, however - spoiler alert - the Marines ultimately fail. Not being well versed in this aspect of World War II history, I guess I assumed this picture would be another patriotic tale of American military success. While the Marines do indeed flex that famous US military might, and granted, the film is undoubtedly patriotic, the ending remains an abrupt letdown. I suppose, given the actual result, it's hard to fault the film for being historically accurate, yet other war films manage to create satisfying conclusions despite a military loss. Of course, those war films tend not to be as patriotic, which is perhaps Wake Island's main focus.

Robert Preston (20 years before The Music Man) and William Bendix (pictured) are a fun duo, and do well to hold the film together, providing the comic relief. Bendix, in particular, is charming and likable, despite his oafishness. Brian Dunlevy is also strong as the disciplined yet respected commanding officer.


  1. Wake Island and The Pied Piper are the two nominees that I have been unable to find viewing options. I guess they will eventually make to TCM, when I can finally watch them.

    I'll turn my attention to the upcoming Academy Awards. I've seen all the picture nominees except Amour. The Academy hasn't been lucky for the former actors nominated for portraying a U.S. President, whether real or fictional - nine nominations and no wins. That will now change, and quite deservedly so. Daniel Day-Lewis should richly earn his third lead Oscar (I still feel he also should have won for Gangs of New York)

    As for Best Actress, Jessica Chastain had been the front-runner throughout most of the season, but I think she, along with Zero Dark Thirty, began sputtering after the media controversy surrounding the torture scenes reared its head. Jennifer Lawrence, running close behind, has surged in front now, I believe. Personally Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook are my #1 and #2 films for 2012, and both actresses are nearly equally deserving. Again, having not seen Amour, makes it difficult to personally access Emmanuelle Riva's performance. From what I've read, it's a beautiful one, and she can't be ruled out.

  2. These links might be helpful :-)

  3. When trying to predict the winners, everyone tries to figure out which statistic is the greatest predictor of Oscar success - a Golden Globe win, previous nominations without a win, playing a mentally or physically disabled person.

    After many years of this game, I've discovered that, by far, the greatest predictor of Oscar success is: who Mike Kelly thinks will win.

    So, if you're leaning towards Jennifer Lawrence, I'm changing my prediction :-)

  4. Thanks for the links, Matt. I could have sworn I checked youtube for these movies. I know I used youtube to watch 100 men and a Girl and I recently watched the very hard to find "A View from the Bridge". I'll now get to see all the 1942 nominees.

    I'm flattered by your belief in my Oscar prediction abilities, but we both have pretty much came out with the same number of correct picks the past few years. This year is a doozy, and I find myself wanting to vote with my heart rather than my head - thus violating a cardinal rule . My conflict is that I liked, but didn't love Lincoln, and I'm having a hard time voting for it in most categories (Best Actor excepted). That could be big mistake on my part. It does lead in nominations, and the pundits over at Awards Daily continue to drool over it.