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Flags of Our Fathers
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by Robert Flaxman

"Not as much of a war movie as you might think."
4 stars

It’s entirely possible that there’s no such thing as a bad war movie. War movies tend to make money, so they receive budgets befitting their scope, which allows them to look good – and it’s hard to be bad when you look good. This doesn’t mean that it’s easy to make a great war movie, though, and if Clint Eastwood can’t do it then I think we’d be right in supposing that making a truly great war film is not as easy as it sometimes seems. On the other hand, it’s not entirely clear that Eastwood is trying.

Flags of Our Fathers is sort of like Saving Private Ryan East, which would be a good thing if it weren’t for the fact that Ryan already covered a lot of the ground on which Flags tries to stake its success. For one thing, there’s the storming of Iwo Jima, which bears a pretty striking resemblance to Ryan’s depiction of Omaha Beach, right down to the type of scene where a soldier dies ironically and I start to worry that the death is being played somewhat humorously. Eastwood’s camera also has a very spare color palette in the Iwo Jima scenes, again reminiscent of Ryan’s desaturation.

In some ways, though, Flags is not a war film at all. The war scenes are gritty and well-shot, but they serve mostly as context and appear only in flashbacks. The story in Flags centers around three men who helped raise the American flag on Iwo Jima, immortalized in a famous photograph. The picture’s impact was such that it helped lift the spirit of the American people and resulted in the three surviving soldiers being summoned home to tour the country.

Eastwood (and screenwriters Paul Haggis and William Broyles Jr., and book authors James Bradley and Ron Powers) casts the men as reluctant heroes, unsure that they did much of anything to merit the attention they receive. The film serves as an examination of the American need – perhaps the human need – to lean on public figures we see as heroic, sometimes pushing them into the roles we want them to play rather than acknowledging them for what they actually did. When John Bradley (Ryan Phillippe) and Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) stand up and say that they don’t consider themselves heroes, it’s notable that no one in the crowd seems to blink.

Flags trips over itself a bit in its middle section, suffering from a shift in voice. Whereas much of the film’s first half is told largely as straight-up narrative (with flashbacks from that narrative), the second half is shifted into the present day, with the original narrative then existing as flashbacks from that. If that sounds clumsy it’s because it is, although once the shift is complete the film finds itself again. It is the end section that really drives home the point, if not several points, and it’s not exactly an uplifting one.

Hero worship in America is by and large an obsession with the flavor of the month, and the more years pass, the more the fixation on the former hero becomes superficial and almost crass. Eastwood points this out in heartbreaking fashion as Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), the third surviving flag raiser and an American Indian, is approached in the field where he is working a menial job. A car pulls up at the roadside and a middle-class white family gets out; the father asks if Hayes is the flag raiser, and when he indicates that he is, the father instructs his kids to pose with Hayes. Once the picture is snapped, they’re back into the car, leaving Hayes to toil in the sun and dirt.

It is because of scenes like this – which make the film’s second half strong, although it feels rushed at times – that Flags of Our Fathers becomes, somewhat paradoxically, a war movie in which the war itself is something of an afterthought. The story that Eastwood is most interested in telling sprung from Iwo Jima, but it didn’t necessarily have to; retired public figures of all stripes surely have some experience with the phenomena described in the film (Bradley receives calls from reporters on every Memorial Day; Gagnon attempts to trade on his name only to find it no longer carries the same weight). Few if any would end up as migrant workers these days, due to the sheer size of the nostalgia industry – being a has-been is now sufficient criteria to get your own TV show on VH1 – but it’s easy to make the connection.

That said, neither Bradley nor Gagnon would have been likely to tell you that they had it tough, since they never asked for the fame to begin with (even if Gagnon reveled in it as the film depicts). Eastwood’s suggestion is that they were both heroes and not – heroes simply for serving their country, and for some things they did on the field of battle, but probably not in the way they were lionized. They were heroes mostly because someone had to be.

It’s far from perfect, and it’s not a great war movie, but then it’s not clear that Flags of Our Fathers ever wanted to be a war movie, no matter how much it spent on battle scenes. As a celebration of the American military sacrifice of the Greatest Generation and an indictment of the hero-worship culture of the country, Flags is still a pretty strong film.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15263&reviewer=385
originally posted: 11/22/06 01:38:03
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User Comments

12/29/17 morris campbell good not great 4 stars
9/20/17 Anne while the film is playing I'm reading reviews of it... 1 stars
5/24/12 Ed Totleben Jr Great adaptation of the book 4 stars
5/23/10 herb kearns very realistic, I was there 5 stars
9/27/07 mr.mike not bad 3 stars
6/09/07 Bob OMG - This is the worst offering by Eastwood EVER! Utterly unwatchable. 1 stars
5/29/07 Piz I expected better, clumsy and empty for stretches at a time. Not bad, but not a must-have. 3 stars
5/28/07 action movie fan very realistic combat scenes but little else-story is pretentious and dull 3 stars
5/20/07 Sam Bonner Becomes unfocused when it leaves the battlefield. Good but should have been better. 3 stars
4/26/07 Bart lacks any kind off subtility. Haggis should stop ruining scripts. 2 stars
4/18/07 AJ Muller Eastwood nails another winner. Worthy heroes + questionable politicking = shades of grey. 4 stars
3/25/07 Eric R. Has Eastwood lost his mind? This is lamer than Blood Work. An unbelievable disappointment. 2 stars
3/11/07 megan excellent movie 5 stars
2/18/07 neznamo War is tragic and heroes are not always heroic 4 stars
2/07/07 UGB Too long disappointed after the hype it received 2 stars
11/22/06 Tiffany Losco Good movie, but probably wouldn't watch it agian. 4 stars
11/19/06 michael good story 2 see 4 stars
11/13/06 Merle Adam beach and Barry Pepper were great, but the movie was flat. 3 stars
11/05/06 Bert Kaplan a 5 stars
11/05/06 Bobbi Good nostalgia piece but story needs to be clearer 4 stars
10/28/06 Quigley probably the most moving film to hit the theaters this year. reminds me of the real heroes 5 stars
10/23/06 michael had its moments but wait for the DVD 4 stars
10/23/06 Steve b Hollywood propaganda Fails badly 2 stars
10/23/06 Taylor Fladgate I was hoping for more. Uneven, and who is dictating the dams story? 3 stars
10/22/06 cd beats gay magic movie 5 stars
10/21/06 Al Iwo was sacred ground. Clint urinated all over it. Bad movie. 1 stars
10/21/06 Mark ho hum war film 3 stars
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  20-Oct-2006 (R)
  DVD: 06-Feb-2007



Directed by
  Clint Eastwood

Written by
  Paul Haggis

  Ryan Phillippe
  Jesse Bradford
  Adam Beach
  Paul Walker
  Jamie Bell
  Barry Pepper

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