Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I saw the movie Flags of Our Fathers last week.

There are are few things in the cinema that you can rely on.
• An Adam Sandler film will never be funny
• A Pixar film will be worth seeing (well, that was true until Cars)
• Clint Eastwood makes damn good movies.

What a career this guy's had. From TV, to Speghetti Westerns. From Dirty Harry to co-starring with an orangatan and now to his latest and perhaps greatest part of his career, directing.

Mystic River
Million Dollar Baby

All excellent films that tell hard, harsh stories and doesn't hold anything back. And the performances?
Gene Hackman, Oscar Winner for Unforgiven.
Tim Robbins, Oscar Winner for Mystic River
Hillary Swank, Oscar Winner for Million Dollar Baby
Morgan Freeman, Oscar Winner for Million Dollar Baby

How the hell can Clint top that?

Flags of Our Fathers is one of those historical films that fascinate me. It covers a story that you think you may know, or just have a vague recolection of, but don't really know the real background about.

The film tells this story (through a use of jarring flashbacks to the field of battle) and centers on the three soldiers who were (or as we find out, weren't) involved in the famous flag raising and survived the bloody battle of Iwo Jima. The three men, Navy corpsman "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), and the two Marines Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Native American Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) are whisked back to the states to headline a grueling US Bonds tour throughout the country. America's hurting, not only on the battle front but in the pocketbook, as the war is bleeding the country dry, and the sales of Government Bonds are desperately needed.

With the exception of Gagnon who's enjoying the spotlight, the men are haunted by memories of the bloody battle on Iwo Jima and wracked with guilt that they not only made it home alive but are now home accepting accolades as heroes. Hayes especially takes it hard, so much so that he eventually ships back to the war.

Eastwood does an excellent job, ripping away the accepted public knowledge of events and showing the raw reality of what transpired (much like what he did with the western in Unforgiven). The battle scenes alone are gritty and chaotic with bullets and limbs flying everywhere as the young warriors storm the beach. But wait a minute, haven't we seen this before? Yes. And that's the main problem with the film.

It's not surprising to see that one of the producers of Flags of Our Fathers is Steven Spielberg. Spielberg's excellent Saving Private Ryan gave us the filmed battle scene that every future War movie will always be compared to. So we, as the jaded movie viewer, have experienced the incredibly tense grim (computer aided) filmed battle and seeing it again, no matter how well done, can be dismissed as a "been there, done that".

Along with the visual aspects, the story of the demythologizing of a famous historical event and image and that our war heroes aren't as pristine and noble as we'd like to think isn't anything new. Yes we've seen this before.

But that doesn't make this a bad movie (though it may sound as if I'm saying that). As I watched Flags of Our Fathers my thoughts of current events couldn't help but fill my mind. Yes, it's a different time, different enemy and a different place, but in many ways it's the same. It's a group of dedicated young men, with their whole future ahead of them, forced with the burden of laying down their life for a cause and leaders that they can't afford to question, but can only listen to and obey. That yes folks, war is hell. It's process is not clean and concise and our "heroes" aren't all noble symbols of a photograph. They're human, filled with foibles just like us. But if not for their sacrifice, we couldn't live the way we do.

I give Flags of Our Fathers a flag raising:

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

I was convinced that Mr. Eastwood had indeed made a fairly great film and a worthy addition to the World War II canon untial the last 10 minutes or so, when he shifted voices to the son to pound us over the head with his message about heroes, just in case we were sleeping through the rest of the movie ... That didn't ruin the whole flick for me, but it came pretty close