Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

Clint Eastwood’s WWII epic is all about scaling down legend, deconstructing myths, and illustrating how truth can become hazy in the name of the greater good. It’s very well made, noble, reverent, intelligently written but somewhat empty at its center, feeling far too mechanical to become one of the great war movies of modern times. The structure is needlessly scattered into three interconnected storylines: 1) the ongoing battle of Iwo Jima between Japan and the United States, 2) the stateside bond tour by three of the six men responsible for raising the flag in the iconic photograph, and 3) a son in present day writing a book about his father’s war experiences in the Pacific. I really don’t feel that splintering the narrative added anything to the story; in fact, there’s a late segment that’s a barrage of character deaths that would have been far more powerful had it not been assembled into an afterthought of a montage. The battle moments are tense and bloody, with just a tinge of Saving Private Ryan familiarity (shaky cam POV, washed out colors, chaotic editing, graphic gore). I would have actually preferred more battle action but oh well.

Most of the film focuses on our three soldiers (Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach) dealing with the pressure of a spotlight they feel is undeserved. You see, the raising-the-flag picture, perhaps the most famous war photograph of all time, was a group of men replacing a flag. There were no bullets buzzing over heads, no bombs blasting; it isn’t even the first flag. The men wince at being called heroes. They’re made to become U.S. military shills, encouraging the nation to keep buying those war bonds. This segment provides lots of moments of interest by illuminating a chapter few know — the story behind the story. These moments of insider info have some juice to them, led by a suave SOB performance by John Slattery as the man in charge of drumming up dollar signs.

Phillippe is an actor I’ve been keeping tabs on ever since 2000’s Way of the Gun, and he is the moral center of the movie, showing grit and humility. It’s mostly a performance of stoic silence, but he has a very strong scene when he confronts a war widow wanting the truth and he lies between his teeth to comfort her. Beach (Wind Talkers) gets the best role as a solider of Native American blood that is still seen as a second citizen in his own nation. There are plenty of revealing moments of casual racism (people call him “chief” more than his actual name) that explain why he took to the bottle with such ferocity. Beach is an emotional wreck and deeply haunted by the disturbing memories of war. He has to be practically pried off of a widow he is clinging to and crying uncontrollably. The cast is full of young Hollywood actors and it might due some good to become acquainted with their faces before stepping into a theater. It can get confusing. Yet another reason a disjointed narrative is a bad idea.

Where Flags of our Fathers cannot make the leap from good to great is in the area of character. After two hours, you don’t really feel like you know anyone better. There’s a distance that stops the audience from fully investing. I think Eastwood and the film have such noble aims that the movie becomes more of a statement than entertainment. There isn’t any conclusive climax; the film seems to directly go right into a voice-over heavy resolution. On a technical front, Flags is very impressive and Eastwood has created his most visually lush film to date. From a human standpoint, it falters and flags. It’s admirable and attractive but I doubt come Oscar time that this war-weary ode to heroism will have many followers.

Nate’s Grade: B

About natezoebl

One man. Many movies. I am a cinephile (which spell-check suggests should really be "epinephine"). I was told that a passion for movies was in his blood since I was conceived at a movie convention. While scientifically questionable, I do remember a childhood where I would wake up Saturday mornings, bounce on my parents' bed, and watch Siskel and Ebert's syndicated TV show. That doesn't seem normal. At age 17, I began writing movie reviews and have been unable to stop ever since. I was the co-founder and chief editor at PictureShowPundits.com (2007-2014) and now write freelance. I have over 1400 written film reviews to my name and counting. I am also a proud member of the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA) since 2012. In my (dwindling) free time, I like to write uncontrollably. I wrote a theatrical genre mash-up adaptation titled "Our Town... Attacked by Zombies" that was staged at my alma mater, Capital University in the fall of 2010 with minimal causalities and zero lawsuits. I have also written or co-written sixteen screenplays and pilots, with one of those scripts reviewed on industry blog Script Shadow. Thanks to the positive exposure, I am now also dipping my toes into the very industry I've been obsessed over since I was yea-high to whatever people are yea-high to in comparisons.

Posted on November 15, 2006, in 2006 Movies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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