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Flags Of Our Fathers (2006)

by on 2010/11/14

Q. What do a janitor, a dead hitchhiker,
and a corpse barber have in common?

A. We used to call them heroes.

* * * * *

It’s great to break out and see the Pacific. Usually it’s Europe but sometimes you just want another perspective. That thought wandered through my mind as I slipped in the Flags Of Our Fathers disc.

I’m referring, of course, to the Pacific Theatre of Operations during World War Two. As part of a November focus on war and history, I was particularly eager to see Clint Eastwood’s recent directorial effort. Produced with Steven Spielberg (Duel) and written with Paul Haggis (James Bond), the movie came and went without the hype of a Saving Private Ryan. Which is ironic given its inspiration: the iconic image of Suribachi flag-raising, said to have won the war.

Though not without action, the story is less about combat than the making of legends, the marketing of hope, the costs and outcomes of success. Several stories run in parallel here. One takes place in our present, reflecting on the past. Another takes place in mid-1945, as the surviving flag-raisers conduct a motivational tour across America, promoting war bonds. The rest show vignettes from earlier in 1945, when the third marine platoon fights its way to destiny on Iwo Jima.

A strong ensemble cast anchors this production with good individual performances and a great sense of camaraderie. Actors include: Adam Beach (Dance Me Outside), Jamie Bell (Adventures of Tintin), Jesse Bradford (Romeo + Juliet), David Patrick Kelly (Twin Peaks), Neil McDonough (Star Trek: First Contact), Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgment Day), Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan), Ryan Phillippe (Cruel Intentions), and Paul Walker (Fast and the Furious). For me a standout is John Slattery (Mad Men), who does a terrific job with a thankless role, selling inspiration in a pivotal speech which put me in mind of the “greed is good” monologue from Wall Street.

I must admit I was less impressed with the flashback framework, though I appreciated the sentiments of the survivors looking back. The structure suggested Eastwood might have gotten too attached to his own Bridges of Madison County. Fortunately the convention became somewhat familiar in time, transitions made smoother with audio, visual, and spoken cues.

Overall I found little to criticize. I’ve seen a fair share of war movies, and this one struck me as having an exceptional number of touches I hadn’t seen before. The sense of scope, of grandeur, is at times an awesome thing. The panoramic scenes at sea, approaching the island, are incredible. And beyond any one scene, the story’s sprawl to the States is a welcome change of pace. Still, it’s not all broad strokes; there are many inspired details, some recurring, some unique: the inner world of patriotism, a sailor falling overboard, insidious propaganda, and the breathtakingly-prevalent racism . . . and not even against the enemy, but within the American ranks.

In fact the Japanese are not only absent from dialogue, they practically vanish from battle. Eastwood — perhaps dovetailing with Flags’ companion piece, Sands of Iwo Jima — directs the combat such that we rarely see their soldiers at all. Similarly he demonstrates a refreshing restraint in knowing what to show, what not to show, and when. We don’t need to see “what they did to the poor son of a bitch.” He’s judicious in meting out the graphic shocks, and wise in letting our imaginations fill in the rest.

Another creative decision involves the use (or lack) of colour. I’ve read of growing opposition to this trend in colour-timing, but I simply don’t agree it’s past its prime. The filtered look is one I love, with a nearly-duotone grey. Like a sepia’d black and white, the image is one of history, stone, and storms. It also serves as contrast when the explosions and fires lash out.

So if it weren’t already apparent, any criticism I could level would be picking invisible nits. Flags Of Our Fathers could hardly be called fun, and yet it’s fast-moving, compelling, and enlightening. Rarely have I seen a war film as fair. Its patriotism is sober, neither blindly gung-ho, nor reactionarily critical. It’s a welcome balance which does as much to serve reality as history.

* * * * *

Rated 14A/R for language and violence

132 minutes

  1. I have a problem with the overall premise of your article but I still think its really informative. I really like your other posts. Keep up the great work. If you can add more video and pictures can be much better. Because they help much clear understanding. :) thanks Colpa.

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