Flags of Our Fathers

Noble, but Heavy Handed and Dull

The last time Clint Eastwood sat in the director’s chair, he won an academy award (and deservedly so) for Million Dollar Baby (2004). This time he tackles the events surrounding the famous photograph of the soldiers who raised the flag at Iwo Jima during World War II. It’s a departure for Eastwood, who usually concentrates on intimate characters in intimate settings. Here he goes with an epic scope and big budget to tell his intimate story. I’m sad to report that I was disappointed with the result.

Corman John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Private Rene Gangon (Jesse Bradford), and Private Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) are pegged by the U.S. government public relations department to tour the nation in an effort to raise war bonds. They are presented as three of the soldiers who raised that famous flag at the war-torn location of Iwo Jima island. Some are unsure of this new role they have been forced into, and all continually flashback to the hell that was that battle.

Saving Private Ryan (1998) is one of my favorite films of all time, and it’s hard not to compare that film to this one. Both movies have two common actors (Barry Pepper and Harve Presnell), brutal war scenes beginning with a beach head assault, color-drained cinematography, and even Steven Spielberg as a producer. All these commonalities are unfortunate, as SPR is a much better film and I kept wanting to see that one again, all while I was watching this one.

The true story here is good, and deserves to be told in a better movie. Flags does not capture the viewer, but plays long and boring. The acting is wooden and sometimes embarrassingly hammy, maybe due to the fact that there are no A-list stars (perhaps they passed?), which surprised me. The themes are so blatant and in your face (such as an Iwo Jima dessert with strawberry sauce that resembles blood, or a voiceover at the end telling you what you should already know) that I felt condescended to.

The combat sequences are brutal and effective, but they don’t transcend. In fact, every movie about war always seems to get this part right, even if the rest of it stinks (remember Pearl Harbor?), so I’m not sure if this is praise or not.

All of this may have sounded better on paper than what ended up on the screen. It has a sweeping scope and perplexing story, all of which is mishandled with sloppy storytelling and questionable casting. Flags of Our Fathers is a passable film, but I expected much more from the normally reliable Eastwood.