The road to hell (in Clint Eastwood’s case, war) is paved with good intentions.
“Flags of Our Fathers” should have been an excellent exercise in conscious war filmmaking, melding two natural talents (director Eastwood and producer Steven Spielberg) and offering a wealth of capable actors and thought-provoking ideas. But the movie winds up a noble effort of mediocre proportions.
At its base, the film is the story of the infamous flag-raising photograph taken in 1944 on the island of Iwo Jima. Culturally synonymous with patriotism and American war imagery, the image is deconstructed through the eyes of three of the six men who raised the flag (the ones who survived) and the toll it takes on their lives.
Far more immersive than the normal war flick, the stories of John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillipe, “Crash”), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford, “Swimfan”), and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach, “Windtalkers”) unfold as we look into the harsh implications of war: death, redemption, greed, naivety and how we latch on to “heroism.”
It’s all relevant material given the nature of our current flag-swishing culture. We readily bow our heads to “accomplished missions” and “fallen steel dictators,” even if it’s staged, dishonest and often meaningless.
In one of his most undisciplined and often-lazy works of direction in some time, Clint Eastwood’s now-signature low-key style works against him here. Like a meandering jazz musician, Eastwood allows too much to wander in and out of the film. With little cohesive or consistent direction, “Flags of Our Fathers” is a well-intentioned mess. Mind you, expectations and standards should not vary because of the filmmakers’ reputation: At the end of the day, a poorly crafted film is just a poorly crafted film.
The film’s nonlinear editing makes it hard to connect with characters (let alone remember their names), and they offer few revelations. War footage is shot in grainy hand-held fashion, because in unwritten Hollywood war movie law, you have to seem realistic in your violence in order to be considered artistic.
Oh, and you have to mute out colors – the scene may be devoid of emotion, but rich in “historical accuracy.” Do this, or else your legitimacy will be put on trial.
Throw in some misty B-level male acting. Make sure your point of view is always confusing and inconsistent. Make your garish CGI distracting. Have key players be inconsequential. And be preachy in making your 100-plus points on the complexities of war.
“Flags” suffers most from a lack of progressive narrative, exemplified by the main character who goes through the same series of events over and over again. We just watch (i.e. aren’t engaged) as Ira Hayes gets drunk, overly emotional and teary over the “bullshit” of war. Cut to him crying, and abruptly cut to gratuitous, inconsequential war footage. Repeat about five times.
Boom! You have “Flags of Our Fathers.”
Star Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars
Flags of Our Fathers
At the Showcase and Quality 16