Flags of Our Fathers

Reviewed By William Goss
Posted 02/12/07 22:53:49

"A Convenient Truth"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

In his maturation as a filmmaker and storyteller, director Clint Eastwood has opted to employ violence as a means of denouncing it, yet in 'Flags of Our Fathers,' the first of his two films concerning the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, he suggests that a bullet isn’t the only thing that can take lives.

“We like things nice and simple. Good and evil. Heroes and villains.”

After Joe Rosenthal snaps a single shot, that of the American flag being raised on Mount Suribachi, one that captures America’s attention and eventually earns him the Pulitzer Prize, three soldiers – John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe, Crash), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford, Happy Endings), and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach, Windtalkers) – are soon shipped back home to embark on a tour for war bonds, the exaggeration of which may be vital at home, yet betrays the true story and real heroes back on Iwo Jima.

In spite of a cumbersome narrative structure that volleys between the battle itself, the war bond tour that shortly followed, and the veterans currently recollecting said events, Eastwood deconstructs the notion and necessity of heroism with both sensitivity and sincerity, breaking down the most revered conflict of our time without necessarily slighting the memory of its participants. It makes for not only a potent statement against war, but also a compelling rumination on propaganda, the need to create heroes and symbols for the greater good – and the price of doing so – that still resonates to this day, and it’s in exploring that moral morass that Eastwood and writers William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis opt out of any sensationalism or nostalgia in favor of a more frank and consequently respectful salute to the men behind the myth, even if subtlety sometimes escapes them (having our soldiers gaze while an Iwo Jima ice cream dish is coated in the thickest, reddest strawberry sauce? really?).

While Bradford’s showboating ways render Phillippe meek in comparison, the focus tends to shift from the latter to Beach, who grounds his somewhat showier role with the weight of a man oft taken down, taken advantage of, and taken for granted, and fated to suffer as such. As the man leading the trio on their war bond campaign and the woman clinging to Gagnon in hopes of leeching off his popularity just as much as he does, John Benjamin Hickey and Melanie Lynskey respectively try to corral their men with plastered grins and nary any consideration for the positions that they’ve been wedged into and the labels that they’re so eager to shun. Establishing and maintaining the overall solemnity of the proceedings are Eastwood’s admirably unobtrusive score and Tom Stern’s relatively dreary cinematography.

It’s only appropriate that, in a tale where a solitary image manages to turn the tide of WWII, Eastwood makes the most of displaying contrast between legend and fact, and in an age where flags still fly and memorials still stand, the film makes for an admirably somber reminder of how the cost of war will always be too steep to rationalize.

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