Flags of our Fathers
Director: Clint Eastwood (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, A Perfect World, Unforgiven)
Writers: James Bradley & Ron Powers (novel)
Screenplay: William Broyles Jr. & Paul Haggis
Producers: Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Robert Lorenz
Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker, Robert Patrick, Neal McDonough
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 132 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

by Andrew James
     Comparisons with 1998's Saving Private Ryan are inevitable I believe. These comparisons are not totally without merit however, because of not only the visceral imagery and style of the picture, but also because of Spielberg's invovlement with the picture as producer. Though not directing, Spielberg is obviously a producer with a significant amount of creative clout. Bringing on Eastwood as director was a stroke of genius because let's face it, Eastwood doesn't make bad films. It's the screenplay in this case that needs a bit of work.

      Flags of Our Fathers is the story of the American flag raising at Iwo Jima. The photo, possibly the most famous war photo ever, captured America's attention and brought us to the realization that we could in fact win the war. We follow the troops through the events that led to that flag raising: preparation in the battelships, the invasion of the island and all that entailed and the actual raising of the flags (plural) atop Mount Suribachi. We also jump around in time to after the invasion, when the troops who hoisted that flag (the ones still breathing anyway) are on a stateside tour to help raise funding via war bonds. On top of this, there is a third timeline taking place in the here and now, in which a young man is trying to learn more about the story and his father's place in history by interviewing other vets who were there.

      The battle scenes are impeccable. Especially some of the aerial views of the fleet of ships and their barrage on the island. With a washed out color so that everything is overcast with a haze of gray, it vaguely gives the sense of archival footage. The battle scenes may be difficult to some as they are every bit as brutal as the images from the D-day landing in Saving Private Ryan; maybe even more so. Without ever knowing the hells of war (nor do I want to) the film does its best to describe to me what it might've been like to be there. Frustrating and sad with some unbelievable imagery that no one should have to see in the flesh.

      Interspersed with the battle scenes is the story of the boys coming back home to raise money for the war effort. They're praised as heroes upon return and everyone want to meet them and shake their hand. They must also meet with the mothers and fathers of the fallen on top of all the politicians that want to exploit their experiences for financial gain. The movie is basically an exploration of what really is a hero. These boys don't beleve they are. The nation disagrees.

      Although recognizable faces abound, Flags has kept the list of big stars to a minimum. The biggest probably being Phillippe and Pepper. This mininmization help keeps the viewers interested in the story and the characters; not focussing on the shiny stars.

      The biggest problem I had with the movie was the way in which we constantly jump around in time. The transitions are difficult to go with. Just as we're getting into a great battle scene or becoming emotionally involved with some experiences of the soldiers, we are swept away to some stuffy ballroom with politicians and the problems of these troubled soldiers. Then that story starts to get interesting and we're whisked away again to an island in the South Pacific. On top of this, and the hardest to deal with, is when we're taken to the present time with the interviews. I had no idea who the people being intereviewed were; which character from the story are they? These segments really bothered me and should've just been edited for time and sparing me of some boredom. It was a nice jumping off point with some good narrative, but to keep coming back to it really bothered me.

      The plot really tries to paint a harsh criticism of the politicians and higher-ups as misunderstanding a-holes who care nothing about the lives of the troops or their family members and care about one thing only: money. Although this may be the case, I felt for both "sides" and realized the importance of all of it. Without money, the men of the armed forces would've suffered even more losses and casualties.

      Although not Eastwood's best picture, it does bring some really heart-felt storytelling and a deconstruction of an almost mythological tale into something much more resembling reality. Even if that reality isn't really what we want to hear; or need to hear. But 60 years later, the truth is more important than what the perceived truth of 1945 was. That truth, though not without some flaws, is brought to the screen intelligently, powerfully and respectfully by Mr. Eastwood.

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