|Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, Paul Walker, Jamie Bell, Barry Pepper, John Benjamin Hickey
Director: Clint Eastwood
If Clint Eastwood were to leave the film industry today, there’s no doubt he would have done so earning his place as one of the most successful actor/directors in the history of show business. His latest directorial effort is a far cry from what we’ve come to expect from the iconic filmmaker, however, and while “Flags of Our Fathers” is still a fine piece of cinema in both design and execution, you can’t help but feel that it’s missing an important element to the story. Perhaps this will be remedied when the second part of Eastwood’s two-film epic (“Letters from Iwo Jima,” which features the Japanese perspective of the WWII battle) is released early next year, but until that day comes, “Flags” doesn’t amount to much more than just another war flick.
Based on the bestselling book by James Bradley and Ron Powers, “Flags” tells the story of Joe Rosenthal’s legendary photo, “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima,” and the three surviving soldiers – John Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) and Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) – who became national heroes overnight. Not so much about the actual battle as you would think, the film instead focuses on the government-led publicity stunt created around the media tour the three men were forced to embark on. Making public appearances in order to convince fellow Americans to purchase war bonds, these men single-handedly fortified a nation, only to be forgotten soon after the war had ended.
Co-written by Paul Haggis (“Crash," "Million Dollar Baby") and William Broyles Jr. (“Jarhead”), the script’s blatant cynicism towards the media blitz is a welcome change from most war stories, but by doing so it also transforms the character of Gagnon into a sort of scoundrel. Of course, he’s the only one with any real desire to be in the spotlight (Bradley is just along for the ride and Hayes would much rather be back in Japan fighting), but should he really be punished for craving a little attention? It’s exactly because of his efforts that the United States was able to stay in the war for as long as it did. Instead of highlighting that particular aspect, however, Eastwood chooses to go another route by focusing more on the lives of Bradley and Hayes; specifically the latter, whose inherent drinking problem automatically qualifies him as a tragic hero.
Thankfully, Eastwood has cast not only the best Native American actor in the business, but one of the best actors of this generation in Adam Beach – who has proven time and again that he deserves more consideration as a serious actor – and so while the subject matter can be a bear to sit through, it isn’t quite as nerve-racking as it would have been in the hands of someone less talented. The rest of the casting doesn’t go over quite as well, with Phillippe leading the pack of dreadfully bad decisions, and the seriously underrated Bradford getting the short end of the stick in most of his scenes. Fellow up-and-comers Paul Walker and Jamie Bell are also horribly wasted in supporting roles, while the appearance of Barry Pepper only further proves that just about anyone can become an actor.
In the past, Eastwood has been much gentler in invoking the emotions of his audience, but this film is so brutally melodramatic that it doesn’t even feel like a genuine Eastwood flick. The story isn’t even shown in chronological order, and so while the surviving soldiers lament over the loss of their friends, the audience is still trying to figure out what face goes with what name. This makes it incredibly difficult to share in the emotional experience, no matter how forced it may be. Perhaps it’s in part due to the fact that Steven Spielberg acts as a co-producer on the film. It would certainly help to explain why the battle sequences are so similar to those in “Saving Private Ryan,” despite the fact that they’re not even close to being as violent, let alone controversial. Does this mean that Eastwood won’t be receiving another Oscar nod come awards time? Probably not, but while his last two films have been shoo-ins for the top prize, “Flags” is going to have a much harder time of convincing the Academy otherwise.
Special Edition DVD Review:
The two-disc special edition release of “Flags of Our Fathers” is a bit of quandary for fans of the Clint Eastwood war drama. On one hand, it’s a major step up from the previously released barebones edition that came out earlier in the year, but on the other, it’s still missing one key feature: a director commentary. Instead, you’ll have to settle for a five minute introduction by Eastwood, who briefly discusses his passion for the project. The rest of the bonus material focuses mostly on the actual production, including a book-to-screen featurette (“Words on the Page”), one on the film’s visual effects, two featurettes on the flag raising – one where the cast discuss their respective characters (“Six Brave Men”) and the other on replicating the event (“Raising the Flag”) – and a generic making-of (“The Making of an Epic”). All in all, not a bad collection of special features, but it isn’t going to top any end of year DVD lists either.