Fact-checking ‘Midway’: How accurate is Roland Emmerich’s WWII movie starring Nick Jonas? – USA TODAY
Published 3:16 PM EST Nov 7, 2019
These American World War II heroes might seem too awe-inspiring to be true, portrayed by actors such as Nick Jonas, Darren Criss and Ed Skrein in “Midway.”
But their exploits ring true in the pivotal battle that took Japan off the naval offensive after Pearl Harbor, even though they’ve been Hollywood-ized by director Roland Emmerich in the drama opening in theaters Friday before Veterans Day.
“The battle itself was so remarkable, if you made anything up, you were really doing a disservice to these men’s sacrifices,” says screenwriter Wes Tooke. “There’s no character beat here that didn’t actually happen.”
Retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Samuel J. Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command and the Navy’s liaison for the film, says the movie is more accurate than 1976’s “Midway” starring Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda. Cox ultimately gave the current telling a strong thumbs up.
“The people are real, what they did is real. This movie captures the courage and sacrifice and stakes involved in the battle,” says Cox. “But for those who know about the Battle of Midway, there are plenty of things that aren’t quite right.”
Here’s a rundown on the accuracy:
Bruno Gaido, played by Nick Jonas, really did take on a plane
Nick Jonas took on the mustache and Long Island, New York, accent to portray the real-life Bruno Gaido, with no need to amp up his role in the lead-up to the Battle of Midway. When a badly damaged Japanese plane attempted to crash-land on the aircraft carrier Enterprise, Gaido sprinted across the deck, jumped into a parked bomber, swiveled the .30 caliber machine guns and opened fire.
The relentless barrage redirected the plane from a direct hit on the carrier. But the suicide mission spun into Gaido’s plane, dramatically cutting it in two, somehow not injuring him.
“That’s one of those movie moments where you might go, that’s a Hollywood whopper,” says Cox. “But it’s actually true.”
Adds Tooke: “In a world full of superhero movies, there was a real superhero.”
Gaido was spot-promoted by Vice Adm. William “Bull” Halsey (Dennis Quaid), who witnessed the jaw-dropping spectacle. What isn’t shown onscreen: Gaido hid after shooting the plane down, afraid he was going to get in trouble for leaving his battle station. “They had to hunt him down and bring him to Halsey,” says Cox.
As depicted, Gaido was later shot down, taken prisoner by the Japanese with his pilot and tragically executed.
The Torpedo Squadron 6 (led onscreen by Darren Criss) flew directly into danger
The danger faced by the first wave of torpedo bombers, and the Torpedo Squadron 6 led by decorated pilot Lt. Cmdr. Eugene Lindsey (Darren Criss), was real, says Cox. Nine of the squadron’s 14 planes were shot down by the Japanese.
“They went in first and the Japanese shot them down,” says Cox. “The film accurately depicts the sacrifice of these torpedo bombers, who made the dive-bombing attack that followed possible.”
Criss’ Lindsey is shown dropping a torpedo, which misses its target, before he’s shot down. “Our torpedoes during that part of the war were notoriously unreliable. And that’s depicted,” says Cox.
You couldn’t make up pilot Dick Best’s true story
Cox was pleased with the portrayal of top pilot Lt. Dick Best (Ed Skrein), despite some script embellishment involving his combative attitude and hot-dog pilot’s moves. For example, Best practicing a no-flaps landing on the aircraft carrier was “Top Gun” fiction, Cox says.
“Had he actually done that, he would have had his wings pulled and been thrown out as a naval aviator,” says Cox. “There are some things true, others exaggerated.”
Best’s heroics in the battle are impressive and accurate. In the battle confusion, most of the dive-bombing planes zeroed in on the Japanese carrier Kaga, sinking it. But Best pulled off with two other dive bombers to successfully sink the Akagi, with his bomb proving fatal.
“Had they not peeled off to hit that carrier, eventually sinking it, the course of the battle would have been very different,” says Cox.
Despite a bad oxygen mix which severely injured his lungs, Best returned to the air to help sink his second Japanese carrier that day, the Hiryu, which had survived the morning attacks. The dramatic scenes of Skrein’s Best dive-bombing amid anti-aircraft fire were visually stunning, Cox says, but in reality, only one plane was shot down by that fire; Japanese fighter pilots inflicted the most damage.
As seen onscreen, Best, who died in 2001, never flew again because of lung damage from his heroic flights.
“If I made up this story, it would be melodrama,” says Tooke. “It couldn’t have happened. But it did.”
The code breakers were key to the attack
Cox was especially excited to see an accurate depiction of American code breakers, lead by Joseph Rochefort (Brennan Brown) and Naval Intelligence officer Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson). The group determined the time and location of the Japanese surprise attack, even the direction from which the strike would come, with stunning accuracy.
Rochefort did wear a smoking jacket and slippers in the code breakers’ chilly office, Cox says, though mostly for warmth.
“They did have a sign in their space saying, ‘You don’t have to be crazy, but it helps if you work here.’ They were a unique group of officers,” says Cox.
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