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In two and a half hours Clint Eastwood paints a thought provoking piece on heroism and war-propaganda. The film tells three stories: first it is the WW II battle of Iwo Jima where thousands of soldiers (Japanese and American) died 'conquering' that island. In the style of Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg is a producer of Flags) the viewer gets a astounding look at war with a lot of blood, guts and CGI. Second is the story of a son of one of the flag raisers on that island, who interviews other survivors of that battle to understand his dad a little better. This is very moving stuff, but stands a little pale in comparison to the final storyline. This is where veteran-director Eastwood really shines. Like his meditation on violence Unforgiven, Flags takes a closer look at heroism where soldiers by chance get into the spotlight of the war-propaganda-machine. Some may say that Eastwood made an anti-war film or even an anti-America film, but they're wrong. Flags is very critical on the way war is sold to the public. There's nothing honorable about killing or to be killed on the battlefield. The only thing that matters is that you protect you're friends in your platoon and that they protect you. Flags is one of the best war movies I ever saw, maybe even better than Ryan, because it's never sentimental and always honest in its portrayal of the soldiers and war in general.
I've always felt that when you fictionalize a story about war, you
dishonor the memory of so many people who have a compelling story to
tell by choosing to make something up instead
The problem with war movies about real people is that you have to deal with complexities of character and plot that the genre simply doesn't lend itself easily to.
So when the story at hand aims to pose questions like "what does it mean to do the wrong things for the right reasons" and tries to debunk the popular myth of herodom, there's very little margin for error.
Enter Clint Eastwood. Never one to shy away from challenging stories, this is a much bigger effort than his usual understated character dramas. On the one hand, it doesn't "feel" like a Clint Eastwood movie, but on the other, it feels at home in his themes of used-up heroes -- the person behind the larger than life persona. These are complex characters in very difficult situations, and he presents them in a way that's straightforward and non-judgmental, so we're left to decide the answers to the film's central conflicts ourselves.
To a person, the cast is up to the challenge. It's hard not to admire Ryan Phillippe for a restrained and thoughtful performance, but the real kudos go to Adam Beach. Almost every aspect of Beach's character is cliché, with one minor exception - that's really the way Ira Hayes was. So the challenge was to portray Hayes as a real person despite the cliché, and the result is one of the most heartbreaking and troubling performances in the film. Here's a guy who is portrayed as a hero, who really has no answers at all.
There's a lot not to like about the film. It's not "entertaining" per se, in the same way that any war memorial in DC is not entertaining. Nor is it a particularly approachable film. What it lacks in popcorn-munching entertainment value, it replaces with gravitas. This is an important film, about an important time. It's status as a valuable history lesson is secondary to it's reflections on human nature and our society. As such, it deserves to be seen, and contemplated, and appreciated.
I can't wait for Letters From Iwo Jima (the companion piece, also from Clint Eastwood, told from the Japanese point of view.) Taken together, the scope of this project is breathtaking.
(Synopsis) There were five Marines and one Navy Corpsman photographed
raising the U.S. flag on Mt. Suribachi by Joe Rosenthal on February 23,
1945. "Flags of Our Fathers" is the story of three of the six surviving
servicemen, John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Pvt. Rene Gagnon
(Jesse Bradford), and Pvt. Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), who fought in the
battle to take Iwo Jima. The picture became one of the most famous
images of the U.S. winning a battle during WWII. However, the battle
for Iwo Jima raged on for another month with three of the marines being
killed in action. The other three servicemen were taken out of battle
and flown back to the states. The photo made these men heroes, and the
government used these new heroes to promote the selling of war bonds on
the War Bond Tour. The three men did not believe they were heroes, even
though the American public did.
(My Comment) The film was based on the book written by Doc's son, James Bradley. It wasn't until his father's death that he found out that Doc was one of the Iwo Jima flag raisers. Soldiers with real combat experiences usually keep their war stories to themselves. Clint Eastwood directed the film, and he didn't pull any punches in the battle scenes, even though the battle for Iwo Jima was considered one of the bloodiest against the Japanese in the Pacific. The only problem I had with the movie was that Eastwood used too many flashbacks that jumped around and made the movie hard to follow. The movie would have been better if Eastwood had gone in chronicle order with some flashbacks. During the battle scenes, you actually see the chaos that soldiers encounter on the battlefield. Overall, I found the story to be realistic and very compelling by not glorifying war. It is a long movie, but the time passes very fast. This film will receive many Oscar nominations. Some of the movie is graphically violent and shows the dark side of war, and the effects war has on our returning soldiers. (Warner Brothers Pictures, Run time 2:12, Rated R) (8/10)
What do you get when you cross an Academy Award winning director whose
movies tend to follow the lives of individuals and their consequences
of the violence around them, an award winning writer that deals with
racism and the map of the human spirit and a producer that has a
penchant for World War II history who is a master of telling epic
stories on the widescreen canvas? Well, you get Clint Eastwood, Paul
Haggis and Steven Spielberg who have teamed up for the first time to
bring to the screen the new WWII story of the six soldiers who raised
the American flag at Iwo Jima and became media heroes in the new film
Flags of our Fathers.
Based on the true (and relatively unknown) story of six regular soldiers that raised the flag atop the isle of Iwo Jima and whose picture of the effort became synonymous with an impending victory of the war, Flags of our Fathers will be one of the most talked about films of 2006.
Flags of our Fathers follows the lives of three surviving members who raised the flag in 1945 atop Mount Suribachi and how the government used these three individuals and the media in an effort to spark interest in selling war bonds to the American public.
Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford and Adam Beach play John "Doc" Bradley, Rene Gagnon and Ira Hayes respectively. These three individuals were partly responsible for the second American flag raising on that graced newspapers and magazine covers all over the world.
If you caught it, I did write the 'second American flag raising'. A fact that it seemed not one of us in the packed pre-screening knew before the films closing credits. Six soldiers on the 5th day of the island's invasion planted the flag of infamy just seconds after the first flag was that was erected was taken down. As the picture made its circles in every American media outlet available, Bradley, Gagnon and Hayes were quickly sent packing back to the United States to be used in a cross country marketing campaign to drum up support for the troops spread out over Europe and Asia.
Not one of them believing they were true heroes, the three are persuaded to separate their reluctance from the necessity to boost morale with the American public and ask for funds to continue with the necessary production of tanks, grenades, guns and armor. The film then switches between their tours of sporting arenas and speaking engagements and flashbacks back to the horrors of the taking of the island in full vivid detail.
Flags of our Fathers is an important film, but unfortunately, not a stellar one. The battle scenes are very well done and show the chaotic atmosphere and pace that follows a ground war, but it's the relationship and the manipulation of public interest as used by the media that the movie hits home. In a time where America is fighting two separate wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with veterans of Vietnam still being paraded on CNN every evening news to discuss comparisons, Flags of our Fathers is important in that it shows how a single picture or event can change an entire opinion over an effort that will cost young men and women their lives.
But where Eastwood fails is in his attempt to drum up any emotional attachment to the three characters. Haggis does his Crash best to have us 'tisk' at the consistent barrage of racial epithets thrown towards Indian descent Ira Hayes, but Eastwood fails to weave this sympathy and the sympathy for those left behind on the beach into an emotional punch that will carry us to the voting polls in the awards season.
The biggest disappointment with Flags of our Fathers comes with the expectation that the three major players in the production bring to the table. Eastwood in particular has stemmed together three recent films The Forgiven, Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby that each dealt with a person of persons dealing with the emotional weight of violence that they were witness. The heavy handedness of Flags of our Fathers should be right up his wheelhouse. Add the brilliant writing experience and resume of Haggis and the movie should have been celluloid gold. Instead, we deal with waving veterans, moments of tenderness between the soldiers and the families of the dead they fought beside and the emotional burden of the horrors that surrounded them in combat without any tear tugging or tissue pulling on behalf of the experiencing movie watcher.
Flags of our Fathers was shot back-to-back with Letters from Iwo Jima which will shows the Japanese perspective of the battle and is scheduled for release in February 2007. While watching Flags of our Fathers, there are a few scenes that you can imagine being in the next years release and maybe that is where Eastwood and the gang lost their focus.
So why does Flags of our Fathers still get 3 ½ stars even though the comments seem so negative? Well, it is because what the film does right, it does extremely well. During the battle scenes you are transported to Iwo Jima and the chaos of the situation can be felt in how you inch towards the edge of your seats. The acting too is better than average, especially from Phillippe who might find himself along side wife Reese Witherspoon as an awards nominee come Christmas. Couple these pluses with the importance of revealing a true and important story to the mass audiences and the obvious comparisons with American war efforts at the time of print, and you have a film that will undoubtedly become one of Eastwoods most talked about films. Even if it wasn't one of his best.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As directed masterfully by Clint Eastwood, "Flags of Our Fathers" plays
both as a war film and a sensitive human drama. It begs comparison with
Orson Welles' screen masterpiece "Citizen Kane" in the film's scope and
The "rosebud" of "Flags of Our Fathers" is one of the greatest icons of American history: the photograph of the raising of the flag on the tiny island of Iwo Jima and the strategic importance of the bloody combat for the acquisition of a landing strip to nearby Japan for American planes. The questions that the film carefully traces are (1) Who were the Marines pictured in the famous photograph? and (2) Was this famous tableau a "staged" scene, as opposed to a real event?
To answer these questions, the film moves episodically among three time-frames--the horrifying battle for the hill at the western tip of Iwo Jima; the time in which three servicemen are identified as the heroes in the picture and paraded ceremonially around America to promote the sale of war bonds; and the time of the death of John "Doc" Bradley, one of the alleged Iwo Jima flag-raisers, as his son seeks to learn the hidden truth about his dad, much like the newspaper reporter on the trail of "rosebud" in "Citizen Kane."
The outstanding pacing of the film by Eastwood is matched by the creative cinematography and the work of designers who accomplish these extraordinary tasks: the recreation of the Iwo Jima theater of war with location filming; a spectacular amphibious landing; grisly scenes of combat....plus detailed period scenes on the home-front. As a minor spoiler alert: please be sure to stay through the film's closing credits for a thoughtful montage of still photographs of the Battle of Iwo Jima, as well as the three protagonists, Bradley, Gagnon, and Hayes.
Among the fine ensemble cast, it is impossible to forget Adam Beach's sensitive and heartbreaking performance as Ira Hayes, a Native American who is simultaneously made into a war hero and marginalized due to his race. Hayes never felt comfortable in claiming status as a hero for his involvement in the flag-raising. In an emotionally-wrenching scene in a hotel room before a military superior, Beach's character breaks down and poignantly expresses the camaraderie and love felt for the fallen members of his battalion. Indeed for all three of the purported flag-raisers, the true heroes were those veterans who sacrificed their lives so that the flag could be raised on Iwo Jima. For this moving and important message, "Flags of Our Fathers" deserves to be placed not only among the greatest war films of all time, but also alongside classics like "Citizen Kane."
I can't recall the last time a movie moved me the way this film did. Clint Eastwood presents an honest portrait of war (the beauty of brotherhood, the horror of literally walking through death, the pain of dealing with survival). The images made me feel like I was getting a real glimpse at the lives of the men who served during WWII. The actors more then carried their own weight. They made you understand these were not characters they were acting out, they were representing real men. To often today war movies are used to actively promote war or to demonize it. I appreciated that this film let me make up my own mind. "Flags of Our Fathers" is a movie that will stay with you. Isn't that what great movies are supposed to do? This film reminds you why movies are important.
"Flags of Our Fathers" is the story of the five Marines and one Navy
Corpsman who raised a replacement flag on a stinking little island
six-hundred miles south of Tokyo. An Associated Press photographer, who
wasn't ready and was caught off guard, snapped a picture of them
raising this seemingly unimportant second flag. He had no idea what he
had just done.
That one picture is said to be the most reproduced picture in the history of photography.
I toured Iwo Jima in 2000 with my father, a private in the 5th Marine Division, who, along with the flag raisers, landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945 -- the opening day of what would be the costliest battle in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps.
I can't say enough good things about the realism of Clint Eastwood's "Flags of our Fathers." Visually, the movie made me think that I was back on Iwo Jima, and emotionally, I felt like I was witnessing what I had been told by Iwo survivors and what I had read in Richard E. Overton's "God Isn't Here: A Young American's Entry into World War II and His Participation in the Battle for Iwo Jima."
James Bradley's book "Flags of our Fathers," is wonderful, and this movie of the same name is very faithful to his book.
But, the editing of the movie takes the viewer through so many flash-backs and flash-forwards that it's hard to keep things straight -- even if you have read the book!
The movie opens with Harve Presnel (I think it was Harve) playing the role of what I thought was a narrator. Later, it looks like he's just one of many people that James Bradley interviewed for his book.
I was expecting some corny things in the movie, like seeing the flag raising picture taking up the full screen in the theater while the Marine Corps Hymn played. That didn't happen. After I heard what I thought was a narrator, I thought that anyone who didn't know what was going on in the movie would probably be kept informed of the not-so-obvious things . . . like it was Howlin' Mad Smith who was demanding, and not getting, additional bombardment of the island; like it was Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, who told Howlin' Mad Smith that "...the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years." These events were in the movie, but the characters were neither introduced by name in the movie, nor were they described by "the narrator," who seemed to come and go at odd times.
Ira Hayes is a tragic character. It's obvious that Hollywood likes tragic characters just because of all of the attention that he gets in this movie, and because Tony Curtis made a movie about Ira Hayes back in 1961. The actor who plays Ira in this movie is great!
Stephen Spielberg and Clint Eastwood obviously had to tap dance around an "Elephant in the Room" when it came to showing what happened to John Bradley's friend on Iwo Jima. If you've read the book, you know what happened. The movie does a masterful job of bringing the subject up, but not bringing it up in a manner that would offend the squeamish, or, for that matter, bringing it up in a way that would make it impossible to show the movie to a Japanese audience.
A great film showing war as it was, and is: ugly, frantic, corporate, confusing, frustrating and very sad. Soldiers accompany their friends into horrific situations with terrible consequences. Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach & Jesse Bradford are WONDERFUL. Paul Walker did not suck. Neal McDonough & Barry Pepper are great (pepper is older but still hot...fell in love with his bible-quoting sniper in SPRyan). Paul Haggis re-wrote the screenplay, which I really enjoyed. The music is haunting as done by Clint, as well as his son Kyle. Please don't leave when the lights go up. B&W photos of the real people this film was based on are shown during the credits. I will see this film quite a few more times.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is an honest forthright portrayal of an important historical and cultural event. Mystic River garnered a lot of acclaim but I hated the film. While Flags appears choppy as it sets the stage, Eastwood manages to bring the story full circle giving it a sense of closure. This closure is a pleasant surprise in an era of empty Hollywood films. This is a much richer and more powerful movie experience than River or many of the Hollywood issue films. People of all ages should see the film but a powerful movie for children to see with their parents, especially their fathers. My dad is a veteran of the Korean War and my father-in-law fought in WWII. Unlike many war films, this film carries a sense of hope in a world of chaos. It is a tribute to all our veterans; yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
I was hesitant to see this because I figured it would be a patriotic appeal for war. What I found was very surprising. First of all, I commend the writer and filmmaker for having a Native American as one of the main characters. Navajo codetalkers were instrumental in our success, but few movies have even mentioned them. In fact, the John Woo film focused more on Nicolas Cage's character than the always excellent Adam Beach. In Flags of Our Fathers, we see how the war has impacted the lives of three men. The most touching story was Ira Hayes, played by Beach. I think he should win an Oscar for his portrayal. He conveyed much more warmth and had much more depth than the other "leads." Even though the narrative was indeed disjointed, if you have the attention span, you can figure it out. Even though the film was two and one-half hours, it didn't feel like it. I found the story very compelling, and a refreshing antidote to a lot of the war films we see. No matter which side you fight on, war is not kind, and Eastwood depicts that well. Overall, a fine effort from all involved.
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