Flags of Our Fathers
An insightful epic that recasts World War II through a prism of symbols and heroes, Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers is a visual treat, combining CGI with an old look in ambitious, thrilling battle scenes. One of the year's best films.
Based on James Bradley's bestselling book of the same name, Flags of Our Fathers is Saving Private Ryan meets Stand By Me. Buried in the collective national conscious, the Associated Press photo of six American soldiers raising a flag of victory over Iwo Jima is the basis of the film. Bradley's father, Doc Bradley (played by Ryan Phillippe in the film), who was one of the flag-raising soldiers, never fully shared the details of the experience with his son, but Flags meditates on some of those unanswered questions. The Iwo Jima conflict, fortified by crags of Japanese snipers, lays siege to thousands of messy casualties, and the tattered flag--immediately seized by U.S. government officials to rallying and recruit soldiers--emerges as a symbol for American pride, while the five Marines and one corpsman who raised it are basically forgotten. Heavy dramatics are saved for Adam Beach (Windtalkers) as Ira Hayes, the Native American Marine, who degenerates into madness. He represents the bittersweet languor of lost ambition and broken spirits.
Director Clint Eastwood is actually the film's best actor, even though he isn't in the movie. We can see his simmering restraint in the Flags' acting ensemble, as he guides his actors into finely tuned performances. From Beach to Phillippe to Paul Walker (2 Fast 2 Furious), Eastwood gets the most out of his young cast by playing them down. Similar to real-life soldiers, allegiance to the team is the actors' goal, creating authenticity. Intense stress requires the actors to have genuine instincts. But by intentionally constructing a more lived-in feel, there is consequently no flashy or Oscar-worthy stand-outs. To his credit, Walker, who usually goes for the brain-dead million dollar paychecks tries something different here, while in his pivotal role, Beach plays the juicy role as best as he can. Still, Beach's breakdown scene is quite honestly, one-dimensional and doesn't have the same dramatic impact as, say, Born on the Fourth of July's Tom Cruise. Of Flags' likely award recognitions, the acting seems to have the least chance of reaching the winner's circle.
Vintage Eastwood is a lion in winter, directing as though there's no tomorrow. With Flags, he interweaves numerous themes to create a war movie, which, despite its cliché-filled genre, is constantly real in tone. The film is historically credible, from the American perspective only, but Eastwood has also directed a companion piece, Letters from Iwo Jima, about the Japanese side, which hits theaters next year. Complex themes of celebrity worship also give the film a post-modern, jaded, Iraq War-era vision. Then there are the visuals. Eastwood incorporates breathtaking CGI shots of the fleet of warships, reminiscent of Troy, on top of an old-style photographic framing, black and white and green, all washed-out. It's like looking at a scrapbook of old photos on a high-definition CD-ROM. Naturalistic scenes--sprawling in their panoramic framing, with cactuses and hills of black sand--remind us we're watching one of America's cinematic icons at work. Flags could be Eastwood's third Best Director Oscar--and will likely net him $100 million-plus at the box office.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.