Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

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Review #283 of 365
Film: Flags of Our Fathers (2006) [R] 132 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $9.50
Where Viewed: United Artists Continental 6, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 21 October 2006
Time: 7:15 p.m.
Film's Official Website
DVD Release Date: unscheduled

Directed by: Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby)
Screenplay by: William Broyles Jr. (Jarhead) and Paul Haggis (Crash) based on the book, Flags of our Fathers by James Bradley and Ron Powers

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Ryan Phillippe (Crash) • Jesse Bradford (Happy Endings) • Adam Beach (Bottom's Up) • John Benjamin Hickey (Infamous) • John Slattery ("Jack & Bobby") • Barry Pepper (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) • Jamie Bell (King Kong) • Paul Walker (Eight Below) • Robert Patrick (The Marine) • Neal McDonough (The Guardian) • Thomas McCarthy (All the King's Men)

Soundtrack: Clint Eastwood - Flags of Our Fathers (Music From The Motion Picture) — or — order the CD soundtrack below

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
It is incredibly important for me to preface what I am about to write with the following: I am beholden to the veterans of past and present wars who volunteered or were ordered to fight to protect our sovereignty. I would never intend to disrespect any war veterans or to diminish their heroism, valor, or loss of life. That said, it is difficult to state, unfortunately, for a lot of different reasons that I shall attempt to enumerate, Clint Eastwood's new film, Flags of Our Fathers, is solidly mediocre. Of course, I cannot speak for the book upon which it was based, which may be both very good and very inspiring, because I haven't read it. Its adaptation by Academy Award®-winning Paul Haggis for the screen was a bold effort as was its direction by Academy Award®-winning Clint Eastwood. With such pros in charge, therefore, one has to wonder why this film turned out so marginally.

"… solidly mediocre."

One thing it does not have going for it was the distribution company's choice for date of release. At a time when the USA is fighting a battle abroad, and young men and women are being killed and wounded every day, the last thing most people want to see, especially people with loved ones serving abroad, is young kids with baby faces getting blown to smithereens on screen. In thinking about this, the one thought that kept replaying in my mind as I sat through this film was, "What point was being made?" Was it an anti-war message? Was it a pro-war hero message? Was it to honor the brave men who lost their lives during WWII? Was it to remind us that war is complicated with pros and cons and with pros and cons for each pro and con? Was it simply to tell the story that people born since 1965 probably never really comprehended from their brief tour of USA history in 11th grade? [For example, I did not realize that the USA was practically bankrupted by WWII and had to sell $14 billion in war bonds, at least according to this film, in order to have supplies to refurnish the front lines or be forced to call a truce with the Japanese and accept their demands.] Maybe it's all of these or none of these or some other point I have not considered. In any case, I worry when I exit a film not knowing what the point of it was.

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The film is structured along three plot arcs that occur in different times and ebb and flow back and forth between each other in a way that all but diminishes the impact of the heroic event of US forces finally taking the island of Iwo Jima from over 12,000 entrenched Japanese forces all prepared to dies for the sake of keeping it Japanese soil. The arcs include:

  • A series of interviews with various people who served with or commanded the father of the film's narrator and book's co-author James Bradley (Thomas McCarthy) who was a naval corpsman and one of the six famous men who raised the second USA flag on Iwo Jima captured in what has become one of the most famous war photos of all time.

  • After the picture becomes an international sensation and gives the citizens of the USA hope that the war with Japan can be won, the US military leaders believe that a publicity tour back home to raise war bond money featuring the three surviving flag-raisers would be a better way for these three: John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) to serve their country. Therefore, they bring the three home and put them in parades, rallies, and fancy dinners before cheering crowds with large purses.

  • The actual battle involving what looks like hundreds and hundreds of ships all converging on this one tiny island, with thousands of men.

Now, for some good news, the actual battle footage is spectacular. It's exactly the kind of stuff that gets you motivated to go join the army even though you see the brutality and the horrors of death flash right in front of your face. Nonetheless, it is nothing short of exhilarating to see that flag go up…twice (the original flag was ordered to be taken down and saved for posterity, so a second flag was raised and it was upon this second raising that the famous photo was captured—a point the film belabors; but, apparently, was historically accepted back home when revealed). For people who are anti-war, the sequences are equally effective for, as I say, they depict all of the horror on both sides of the line including dismembered heads, arms, and everything in between. It's also hard with the baby-faced actors playing these roles (though some like Phillippe [32], Bradford [27], and Paul Walker [33] are much older than they look) not to get literally sick to your stomach thinking about the logic of sending these young kids to war with what their platoon leader Mike Strank (Barry Pepper) describes as a 50% chance of coming home. So, pro-war or anti-war, both sides can take solace in this arc fulfilling objectives. The bad news on this arc is that due to the way the plot of the entire film is structured, the scenes for this arc themselves are all shuffled up into an occasionally incoherent fashion. The final scene of the film illustrates this point effectively because it actually occurs just after the flag-raising in real time, and that was some 35 days or so before the battle to take the entire island was over. The net result leads to misunderstandings and misgivings about the entire thing in some ways.

Really, however, the biggest UNFORTUNATELY, comes in that the other two arcs are inexplicably terrible.

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When the three men are shipped back to the USA and told they are basically going to become the face of the war bond drive, only one, Rene, sees this as an opportunity. The other two, John and Ira exhibit discomfort with the concept from the outset. Ira, a member of the Pima Nation of Arizona, feels like a complete fraud. He wishes to be back with whom he considers the true heroes the men in his unit still fighting and the ones who have already lost their lives. Ira buries his deep sadness and shame for being on the tour and staying in lavish hotels and being called a "hero" by press and fans alike by drinking himself nearly to death. John, tries his best to treat the experience like he would in accepting any other orders from his superior officers. He does what he is told, doesn't complain, and constantly works to reconcile an error made by Rene from the beginning when he misidentified one of the flag raisers to the detriment of the family of the real flag-raiser and the eventual pain of the family that had to be told their son actually was not one of the flag-raisers. Rene works the opportunity like a used-car salesman making connections and getting married. Yet this entire plot arc never really sets very well. Partly, it is repetitive; and, partly, it might be comical if it weren't so patently perturbing. They show up, they say they are not the real heroes, they ask people to buy bonds, Ira gets drunk or is already drunk, someone throws out a discriminatory remark at him such as, "Did you use a Tomahawk on those Japs, son?", Doc comes to his rescue pulling him out of a scuffle with the police, their military handler, Keyes Beech (John Benjamin Hickey) tries to excuse Ira's behavior, and they do it all again the next day. There are some particularly disturbing parts to this segment as well the sickest of which was when at a very fancy dinner, the three men are served frozen ice cream molds of themselves with a choice of strawberry or chocolate syrup. The strawberry looking pretty much like blood when poured over the statue made for a most unpleasant image and practically, I'm sure, inedible dessert for men that had seen thousands of their countrymen killed or wounded and the soil drenched in the blood of fallen comrades. This arc completely falls apart when it is clear that racism directed toward Ira including his commanding officer making racial slurs about him and all indigenous people of North America for that matter, decides to send him back to the front line without being allowed to see his mother in Arizona on the way. Historically accurate or not, this detail about his mother and the fact that after the war Rene cannot get a single job and lives the rest of his live as a janitorial engineer, are two things I probably would have simply edited out. All they do is serve to distract and humiliate.

Worse, however even than this arc, is the arc of on-going interviews and narration by James Bradley as portrayed by Thomas McCarthy. It may have been Thomas McCarthy was not the right guy to play this role and not just because in no way is it possible to envision that he might be the son of Ryan Phillippe, but because he is given really so little to do, and he is not one of those actors that can capably reveal his character when saying and doing nothing but sitting opposite someone telling a story. He just looks uncomfortable. And this then juxtaposed with scenes of him sitting in front of his computer typing up the story as it is being told seemed to further remove his emotional investment from his character. The only glimpse of motivation we get as to why this story is even being written is a scene that most people probably wouldn't have put in the film considering it far too boring compared to scenes of US marines stumbling upon caves where hidden but hopeless Japanese soldiers have blown themselves up with hand grenades. This scene has James ruffling through an old cardboard box of his father's things and discovering for the first time his war medals and such. He says that he never knew anything about his father being one of the men that raised the flag over Iwo Jima until after his father's death and people started to tell him the stories. Yet, in all of this narration, he never once explains what compelled him to write this book, what about the story did he feel was so worthy to share, and what point was he really trying to make. He makes one almost throwaway comment about his father believing that the real heroes were the people who died in the war that becomes a cliché of a cliché by the time he finally gets around to saying it.

Regrettably, with two thirds of the film being nearly pointless and the other potentially great third so jumbled and sequentially compromised, the overall product, while of great intentions, did not turn out to be a very good cinematic experience. Certainly, this is not one of the best films of the new century, and not one of the best WWII movies ever made. It does not even begin to approach Saving Private Ryan, for example. I would give it $13.50 for the taking Iwo Jima arc and deduct $1 for the sequence issues. The arc of narration I would give $7.50 and the arc of war heroes on tour would get $9.00. This gives an overall rating of $9.50

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Other Projects Featuring Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Cast Members
Ryan PhillippeJesse BradfordAdam Beach
John Benjamin HickeyJohn SlatteryBarry Pepper
Jamie BellPaul WalkerRobert Patrick
Neal McDonoughThomas McCarthy
Clint Eastwood
Screen Co-Writers
William Broyles Jr.Paul Haggis
Book Co-Authors
James BradleyRon Powers
The Book
CD Soundtrack
Related T-Shirt
Related DVD

Flags of Our Fathers (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]
With a preface of being beholden to veterans and with no intention to disrespect or diminish their heroism or loss of life, it is difficult to state that, for enumerable reasons, Clint Eastwood's new film, Flags of Our Fathers, is solidly mediocre. Structured into three plot arcs occurring in different decades that fold back onto each other in a way that diminishes the effect of the one that might have had the most impact—the actual battle for Iwo Jima—the film succumbs tragically to the diversion of the other two arcs: the 'heroes' of the flag-raising ceremony being paraded around to sell war bonds, and the tedious narration and interviewing by the story's author and son of one of the famous Iwo Jima flag-raisers. While the battle footage was spectacular, this important arc is sequentially compromised, leaving a product that, while of great intentions, turned out a marginal cinematic experience.

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