Apart from Pearl Harbor, the battles shown on screen are amalgams of legendary engagements like Midway, Guadalcanal, and Leyte Gulf. Curiously, the makers also saw fit to fictionalize well-known figures like Admiral Husband Kimmel (“CINCPAC I”), the aforementioned Pacific Fleet commander who had the misfortune to be in charge on December 7, and his successor, Admiral Chester Nimitz (“CINCPAC II”), who oversaw the Central Pacific counteroffensive against Japan.
My favorite part of In Harm’s Way is that it captures a navy at a time of wrenching change. As someone once said, you go to war with the army you have. In 1941 the U.S. Navy went to war with the fleet it had—except that the Pacific Fleet the United States had on December 8 looked radically different than the one moored near Ford Island at dawn on December 7. The maimed navy had to wage war with the implements that remained to it until 1943, when the entirely new fleet Congress had authorized in the 1940 Two-Ocean Navy Act had been fitted out and began arriving in the theater. Battleship engagements were out; unrestricted submarine warfare and aircraft-carrier raids on Japanese outposts were in. Methods changed while the battle line remained ablaze in Pearl Harbor.
See also Jim Emerson’s unsympathetic but fair discussion of the late Tony Scott’s filmmaking.