Life of Skrein

‘Midway’ Features Our Worst Actor Playing the Best of the Greatest Generation

I saw the Midway movie. The first thing you should know about this movie is that the main character is named Dick Best. Now, in 1942, someone could name their child “Dick Best” unironically. However, this is 2019, and when someone says the name “Dick Best,” you have to laugh, especially in dialogue like “Those men will follow you anywhere, Dick Best” and “God Bless Dick Best.”


MIDWAY ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Ronald Emmerich
Written by: Wes Tooke
Starring: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Quaid, Nick Jonas, Luke Wilson, Aaron Eckhart
Running time: 138 min


 

Also Ed Skrein (pronounced “Brian”) plays Dick Best, who was an actual heroic American bomber pilot who singlehandedly turned the tide of the war in the Pacific. Ed Skrein, on the other hand, is a British model who’s best known for bailing on a supporting role in Game Of Thrones to appear in a Transporter movie.

Though Skrein may be a model, he actually looks like the actor Richard Kiel, who played “Jaws” in James Bond films. And in this film, he does a mumbly and nearly unintelligible Bronx-y accent that sounds like he either ran up an electrical pole or has swallowed a mouthful of ceramic pie weights. When he chews gum, which he does often, he becomes easier to understand. It’s like watching Lurch from The Addams Family lead men into battle. This terrible casting choice makes an otherwise mostly watchable war movie into a legendary laughingstock. Skrein might as well have been Tommy Wiseau, he’s so bad.

Midway has been a movie before. When the previous movie came out, in 1976, most of the people who remembered the actual battle were still alive. Now most of those people are dead, and it makes you wonder, who cares anymore? Saving Private Ryan and Dunkirk did a much better job of chronicling the Greatest Generation’s WWII sacrifices. And if you really want to know what it was like to fight Japan to the death, watch the beautifully-made and movingly-acted Band Of Brothers: The Pacific.

The original Midway movie featured a series of hilarious bad performances from Charlton Heston, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, and Robert Wagner. However, this new one gives them a run for their money, with massive clunkers from Dennis Quaid, Luke Evans, and, incredibly, Nick Jonas with a pencil mustache. Patrick Wilson, fresh from Aquaman, woodenly plays a Naval intelligence officer, but never says “Call me Ocean Master.” Nor is there an octopus playing the drums, always the standard for any good ocean-fight movie. In the 1976 Midway, Henry Fonda played Admiral Chester Nimitz. Here, if you want to feel old, Woody Harrelson collects that paycheck while wearing his Joe Biden wig.

Bad writing burdened the 1976 Midway film with a hammy subplot about a pilot who falls in love with a Japanese girl, kind of like the youth-y romance in South Pacific. This new version, to its credit, doesn’t really give its characters a personal life, other than the stereotypical gals back home, and there’s also refreshingly little in the way of severed limbs and exploding heads, all the rage in modern war movies. Midway has a lot of battle strategy and moving ships around boards, as it should be, and provides an interesting peek into the basement world of Navy codebreakers.

The film also spends quite a bit of time on Japanese ships, depicting them as doomed and mostly dumb samurai. But to be fair, they really were the bad guys in WWII. It also gives us a blink of some scenes of the director John Ford making movies on Midway Island. And there’s a not-bad little side trip into China, depicting the tragic aftermath of James Doolittle’s crash-landing after his raid on Tokyo. There’s definitely history on the buffet if you want to do some extra reading. And Aaron Eckhart rises from the grave to play Doolittle, grateful that there’s a way worse actor than him in movies now. That actor’s name is Ed Skrein.

Director Roland Emmerich stages the battle of Midway at maximum volume and CGI. Aircraft carriers blow up and fighters go down in flames. There’s plenty of combat, including pretty much the entire last hour of the movie, plus the Pearl Harbor attack and the Doolittle raid. Not bad. When I was six years old, at the height of my World War II obsession, I would have thought this was the coolest movie ever. Now, at the withered age of 49, I just found myself wondering about Ed Skrein’s lopsided face and absurd dialogue. And also about this scene from Airplane 2: The sequel.

 

Did they really think a movie with a main character named “Dick Best” was going to be popular in 2019? Maybe, with a different lead. Midway may remember Dick Best. But other movies have done it better, without Ed Skrein.

This concludes my review of the Midway movie.

Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of ten semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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