Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

Genre: Drama and War Running Time: 2 hrs. 15 min.

Release Date: October 20th, 2006 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Clint Eastwood Actors: Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford, John Benjamin Hickey, John Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker, Robert Patrick, Neal McDonough, Melanie Lynskey, Tom McCarthy

 


 

T

hough there are documentaries, biopics, and even historical epics that educate and inform, they maintain little gravity without a certain degree of entertainment value. “Flags of Our Fathers” is a picture that, despite providing an in-depth look at the history of the iconic photograph of six soldiers raising the American Flag at Iwo Jima, lacks passion and excitement, the ability to awe and amaze, and ultimately the power to entertain. The bleak presentation of the politics behind the photo’s success drowns out any adrenaline raised by the horrific battle portrayals, leaving a slightly more realistic bent on war, but also yielding a history lesson most will find as boring as a high school lecture.

Carrying the feel of a documentary more often than not, “Flags of Our Fathers” employs a flashback narrative structure that switches between the actual battle at Iwo Jima, the strategy and politics behind the photograph, and present day – where the son of one of the soldiers interviews surviving members about the conflict. It all begins with John “Doc” Bradley as an old man, reflecting upon the war and the disturbing memory of searching for a missing comrade he had left behind briefly while helping a fallen soldier. The film then jumps backwards to a celebration and reenactment of the flag-raising ceremony at a war benefit event. Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), and John Bradley (Ryan Phillippe) are three of the six soldiers who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi, and are therefore asked to participate in the proceeding to raise money. Through several more flashbacks and flashforwards, viewers learn that the events surrounding the flag raising are not as they seem, and that in the government’s haste to create heroes for the American home front to admire, mistakes were made concerning those truly responsible.

Tom Stern’s impeccable cinematography is present again (having previously served as the director of photography for Clint Eastwood on “Million Dollar Baby,” “Mystic River,” and “Blood Work”), adding an epic feel to the ferocious attack sequences and a morbid beauty to the landscapes of the fateful mountain. The harsh, washed grays that permeate the Japanese island create a gritty realism of the horrors of war and emphasize the irreversible desolation. Unfortunately, no matter how brilliant the camerawork or haunting the color scheme, visual gimmicks can’t supersede the frustration and dissatisfaction generated by the jagged storytelling and the extreme focus on politics over action. With its imagery, “Flags of Our Fathers” desperately attempts to emulate “Saving Private Ryan,” but its story (though certainly more in the nonfiction vein) is just not as moving or dramatic.

Far from passive in its depiction of WWII, “Flags of Our Fathers” is, in fact, inherently violent. The extent and style of violence, however, borders on offensive, regularly drifting into the realm of gratuitous. Several scenes of brutality are severely out of place, even if director Eastwood’s intention was accuracy or intensity. Bloodshed might be unavoidable to accurately portray armed conflict, but a few severed heads and exploded bodies into the picture and that sense of genuineness shifts into unnecessary bloodthirstiness (seemingly better suited for a horror film than a historical tribute or expose). Yet even with all the excesses, “Flags of Our Fathers” still looks to analyze fundraising, psychological traumas, and governmental affairs more than the fighting and killing and concrete consequences that could have made for a thought-provoking investigation. And since its vision of political aftermath is only marginally fresh, it’s easy to pick out the copycatting going on, which steals from far superior depictions of this oft-filmed hostility.

– The Massie Twins

  • 5/10