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Awesome: 13.41%
Worth A Look46.34%
Average: 24.39%
Pretty Bad: 12.2%
Total Crap: 3.66%

9 reviews, 28 user ratings

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Flags of Our Fathers
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by Erik Childress

"Ain't Buying No War Bonds OR This Movie"
2 stars

John Wayne loved this country. He bled the red, white and blue and was a staunch conservative who shot down the bad guys first and then had a celebratory drink in place of questions. It’s no wonder he became such a cinematic icon through decades of different wars, conflicts and skirmishes. He was a winner and America was number one. J.W. went on to direct such pro-American epics as The Alamo (1960) and The Green Berets (????), the latter considered a propaganda-worthy tribute to Vietnam (and not the good kind.) Clint Eastwood could arguably be considered the heir to Wayne’s legacy with his sprawling western characters and Dirty Harry antagonism. But those days passed with the release of Unforgiven, his brilliant bilateral ode to the Old West mythos. Flags of our Fathers, the first of a two-part experiment by Eastwood, is very much his dis-salute to the war effort’s hype machine. In doing so though, he has failed quite miserably through a fractured structure to register the key components needed to garner our full support.

No less than three timelines and a pair of narrators are utilized to tell the story crying out for a linear connection. First off, there’s the wraparound story with present day veterans (portrayed by actors) traumatized by their battle scars. Our first narrator turns out to be neither of them, but later discovered to be the man who took the famous photo of the flag raising at Iwo Jima during WWII. Going back to the battle itself, little is proclaimed about the importance of taking the island, but much was made about that photo splashed across every newspaper in the country. An opportunity was seen by the war department and they immediately called for the surviving members of the raising to be sent home and begin a promotional tour.

John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillippe) was a doctor in the battle. Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) was only a “runner” who may not have got to do much while he was there, but jumps at the chance to come back home and be proclaimed a hero. And Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) saw many of the horrific sights first hand and would rather be with his unit than have Gagnon point him out to the officer handing them over to do public relations. The little-known fact about that day is how the photo which has spawned countless memorials was actually the second one taken. The first flag raising (also not done in the heat of battle as seen in John Wayne’s Sands of Iwo Jima) involved different men and was quickly taken down to be kept as a souvenier for a late-arriving commander. As always with war, two sides to every story that we usually only get half of.

And that’s what Flags of our Fathers unfortunately feels like. The utilization of the “War Bond” side of things makes up about half the film’s running time with the other hour three parts Iwo Jima and one part our time. The insistence on the proliferation of jumping back and forth at will cuts through the heart of these men’s stories and leaves us with only a dead horse that’s beating. What should have been a gut check on our government’s behavior asking us to continue paying for our own fathers, brothers and sons to die is left as a fill-in-the-blank. Since our part in WWII is considered by many to be the last bit of necessary military involvement to preserve our country’s future, there’s a need to justify what we’re doing there in the first place to balance out our homeland’s apparent disassociation with our ability to achieve victory.

It begins with the men themselves. Philippe’s “Doc” Bradley may as well have been just a pair of disembodied eyes since he’s left to just stare at the other proceedings and then into the camera when we’re about to shift timelines again. Bradford’s Gagnon is less developed than one of the dead bodies caught in the tide, barely registering a thought over his girlfriend’s (Melanie Lynsky) self-inclusion into all his publicity. Which leaves Ira Hayes, a true American tragedy if there ever was one. Here is a Native American fighting honorably for his country who, nevertheless, was racially profiled as “Chief” or “Indian” even amongst his brothers-in-arms. Becoming an extension of our country’s symbol for freedom and tolerance, Hayes was unwilling to disgrace whom he felt were the true heroes of that war and fell into a pattern of drunkenness that played into the stereotype and left him wandering the amber waves of grain alone until the end of his days. But other than his one Oscar clip moment in a bedroom, Beach gives an uninspired performance characterized by a screenplay that does him the dishonor of being just another target to lob racial epithets towards. Does he want to return to active duty because he’s patriotic, because he never wanted to abandon his men or because he knows too well that it is a viable alternative to an America who won’t serve his kind the way he has served them? The movie never tells us and barely implies any which way.

These three men garnered the attention of a grateful public and a government all-too willing substitute bodies with dollars. The conception that the other men on the ground were forgotten about plays into the decision by Eastwood and screenwriters Paul Haggis and William Broyles Jr. to leave behind their buddies as just faces in the crowd. Except that the focus IS on Bradley, Gagnon and Hayes and as we’re reminded in a never-ending epilogue narrated by Bradley’s son (Tom McCarthy) that our boys fought for their friends first and the country second – it’s the man on their left and their right that defines them. So by populating those men as recognizable faces (Thin Red Line-style – including Paul Walker, Jamie Bell, Robert Patrick and Private Ryan/Band of Brothers veterans Barry Pepper & Neal McDonough) and extinguishing them in a montage of kill shots, there is no emotional commitment or restitution. When Hayes tries to shed light on the first flag raising to their PR handler (John Slattery, doing the film’s best work), he tells him that Hank wasn’t in the celebrated picture and we’re left not with the enigma of printing the legend when it becomes fact but “who is Hank?”

Comparisons are inevitable to Saving Private Ryan even without Steven Spielberg on board as a producer. The one extended battle sequence in the film (about half the length of the infamous D-Day landing of Ryan’s) is impressively staged in its scope but has its horrors muted everytime they cut away and shift forward. The wraparound story could have been diced altogether as it does little but cause a reevaluation by those who found Ryan’s “better man” speech as maudlin and unnecessary considering Flags’ hospital bed confession consists of roughly the same regrets. With Unforgiven, Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood has continued to elevate his status as a supreme storyteller but seems to have left it all on the ground floor as he reached for something higher in epic form. Would Mystic River have been as intense if it began with Sean Penn’s confrontation with Tim Robbins? Would Million Dollar Baby have been as devastating if it began in the hospital with Hilary Swank? History has been distorted enough. We didn’t need Flags to shift it around anymore.

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originally posted: 10/20/06 14:40:26
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User Comments

12/29/17 morris campbell good not great 4 stars
9/21/17 Anne while the film is playing I'm reading reviews of it... 1 stars
5/25/12 Ed Totleben Jr Great adaptation of the book 4 stars
5/24/10 herb kearns very realistic, I was there 5 stars
9/28/07 mr.mike not bad 3 stars
6/10/07 Bob OMG - This is the worst offering by Eastwood EVER! Utterly unwatchable. 1 stars
5/30/07 Piz I expected better, clumsy and empty for stretches at a time. Not bad, but not a must-have. 3 stars
5/29/07 action movie fan very realistic combat scenes but little else-story is pretentious and dull 3 stars
5/21/07 Sam Bonner Becomes unfocused when it leaves the battlefield. Good but should have been better. 3 stars
4/27/07 Bart lacks any kind off subtility. Haggis should stop ruining scripts. 2 stars
4/19/07 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
3/12/07 megan excellent movie 5 stars
2/19/07 neznamo War is tragic and heroes are not always heroic 4 stars
2/08/07 UGB Too long disappointed after the hype it received 2 stars
11/23/06 Tiffany Losco Good movie, but probably wouldn't watch it agian. 4 stars
11/20/06 michael good story 2 see 4 stars
11/14/06 Merle Adam beach and Barry Pepper were great, but the movie was flat. 3 stars
11/06/06 Bert Kaplan a 5 stars
11/06/06 Bobbi Good nostalgia piece but story needs to be clearer 4 stars
10/29/06 Quigley probably the most moving film to hit the theaters this year. reminds me of the real heroes 5 stars
10/24/06 michael had its moments but wait for the DVD 4 stars
10/24/06 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
10/23/06 cd beats gay magic movie 5 stars
10/22/06 Al Iwo was sacred ground. Clint urinated all over it. Bad movie. 1 stars
10/22/06 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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