Flags of Our Fathers

A Film Review By Jason L. King

Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford
Directed By: Clint Eastwood
Rated: Rated R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language.
Review Posted: 11/9/06

Final Grade:

If you’ve been a loyal reader of the site, you would be quick to notice that if Clint Eastwood has his name attached to a project, one of the writers on this site is going to be in love with it. In our eyes, Eastwood is the man, and getting new film from him in each fall is kind of like getting an early Christmas present from you’re really cool grandpa. Granted, he doesn’t always make the year end, feel good movies of the year, but their always enjoyable and equally enjoyed by Oscar voters. So needless to say when Flags of Our Fathers was hitting theaters, it was a film that I made a point of going out and seeing.

Flags of our Fathers is one half of a two part film surrounding the events of Iwo Jima. The story chronicles the lives of a few of the brave soldiers that took part in the flag raising at Iwo Jima. That famed flag raising picture can be found in just about every textbook today and seen in statue form as the Marine Corps. War Memorial. It’s considered to be the one picture that inspired the US, who was sick of the war at the time, to rally behind their troops and fight for the cause. Eastwood’s tale is woven around the picture and chronicles the lives of the men involved before and after the picture.

I am sad to report that I really felt something was missing in this film. For an average run of the mill director, I would have been praising this film a slight bit more, but for a veteran director just coming off of an Academy award, I really felt as though he missed the mark with Flags of Our Fathers. Eastwood’s tale is full of flashback’s including flashbacks within flashbacks. They become confusing at times, and while with a watchful eye and through context you can make sense of them, I really think there could have been a better way of going about this. The whole movie is a flashback, we realize this early on as the son of one of the great war heroes is writing a book about his father, and so we get the point of view from various other war veterans and friends that were with him along the way, as well as the son’s retelling of what he already knows. Within each of those flashbacks, we are given insights into what each of the individual soldiers are thinking about in certain situations. The outcome of this is a film that has no real chronological order and jumps all around everywhere, scrambling to make ends meet.

It does seem to be however pretty historically accurate. While I am no history scholar, you can tell that Eastwood did his homework and did a wonderful job of recreating the Iwo Jima battle fields and the horrid things that occurred there. He even raises the idea that some of the people who are claimed to be in the picture may in fact not be in their after all, as he tells of the tale of an alternate second flag raising. He also touches on the idea that many skeptics believe that the whole picture was a staged farse, instead of one of the war’s most patriotic moments.

Acting wise, Ryan Phillippe leads the way in this film and does a nice job of taking on one of the lead roles. I’ve always felt that Phillippe is hit or miss in films, but films such as Crash and Way of the Gun and now Flags of Our Fathers remind me that he does have leading man potential. Sharing the lead role with him is Adam Beach, also known to the cinematic world as token Native American guy. Beach has made an appearance in over 50 movies and TV shows since 1990 and is quickly becoming one of those Hollywood familiar faces. I will forever remember his as the lovable snakes and sparker selling Native American, Kicking Wing, in Joe Dirt but he’s done far better work than that I can assure you. None the less, Beach plays the role of Ira Hayes, the alcoholic soldier who can’t deal with the many sights and sounds that still haunt him after Iwo Jima. Beach fills the role quite well and it really is a stand out moment for the actor. While chances of Oscars are slim, I would have no problem seeing a supporting role nod go his way come the end of the year. Actor Jesse Bradford finishes off Eastwood’s main character trio in a role that is easily forgotten about. I can’t say anything he did in this film left with a good or bad taste in my mouth, he was just simply there.

As member and acting President of the Unofficial “The World Would Be Better Without Paul Walker Fan Club” I feel that it is important to mention that Walker has a very small, glorified cameo role in the film. Now I admit that Walker grates on my nerves more than he does the average movie goer (and therefore he would stick out to me more than he would anyone else), I felt like he was simply out of place. The other actors (and there were plenty of familiar faces in the film) would pop up and look like they fit the part or could actually exist during the time period. Walker’s appearance on the screen sticks out like a sore thumb, and his sudden appearances on screen are kind of like a surprise visit from that wannabe friend that no one claims they invited to your party.

I think the film also falters because I really don’t think the soundtrack worked for the filml. Eastwood wrote the musical score, and drills that main little piano riff into your brain throughout the entire film. This approach has worked as nice compliments in many of his other films, but in Flags of Our Fathers it is distracting. When the music would fade in, I would suddenly have this image of an old man playing sad blues on a piano, and for a brief moment forget about what was happening on screen. Perhaps this was my overactive imagination but something didn’t feel right.

Aside from solid acting and the problems noted above, Eastwood should be commended for creating a film that has a very nice look. He does a pretty good job of capturing the era and some of the sights, sounds and aftermath of war. Eastwood has an eye for great cinematography and he paid very close attention to details that would enhance the film overall.

Like every war movie, Flags of Our Fathers leaves you with the same themes, war is hell, you never forget what you see over there and then finishes off by instilling a sense of patriotism in the audience. The problem with Flags of Our Fathers was I didn’t think it did much more than that. I walked out of the movie saying that I was glad that I saw it, but it was a one time viewing. Millions of movies exist in the United States today and the war genre probably the second biggest genre out there, right next to westerns. Flags of Our Fathers can be easily lumped in with the rest of them as just another war movie. Don’t get me wrong, I did find some enjoyment in the film, but it felt flawed. Save your money on this one and pick it up as a rental. While it is still an above average movie, you’re not going to get any more out of it by seeing it on a big screen other than spending about $20 more than you would on a rental.

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