The fabulous Vern sent in his thoughts on FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. His reviewis rather long, so I’ll get out of the way and let him speak for himself.
Well, shit. I feel like an asshole giving a room-temperature review to my man Clint Eastwood’s long awaited WWII drama. Because Clint is the best. If there was some reason why the entire human race had to be destroyed except for one movie star, and I had to choose who it would be, I would choose Clint. I don’t care if he’s old, he’s the number one Badass Laureate of all time. He’d make a damn good last representative of our species, and he could still take on the vampires pretty good I think. But despite (and partly because of) my great respect for the man, I gotta be honest: I don’t consider this a great movie.
I like the idea behind the movie, which is not the usual “war is hell” but instead “war is complicated.” Starting with the dialogue at the very beginning it tells you that nothing is black and white, people aren’t just heroes or villains and that they have to make it seem that way to sell a war. Some of the movie is about the battle of Iwo Jima and some is about three of the guys who hoisted the flag in the famous photo going on a tour to be introduced as “the heroes of Iwo Jima” to promote war bonds. But these guys have a hard time with it not only because putting up the flag wasn’t the heroic part of what they did, but because they actually put up the second flag. The first one was a spontaneous gesture, the second one was a replacement flag so the marines could keep the historic first flag. The second flag happened to be photographed really well though, so they got all the attention. Also their flag was bigger.
There are complications because some of the flag-hoisters have died, and there’s confusion between the two flag-raisings, and some of the wrong parents have been notified that their dead sons are in the famous photo. To me the most effective scene in the movie is when Ryan Phillippe, who actually is in the photo, has to lie to a woman to convince her that her son Paul Walker, I think) is in there too. It’s a hell of a situation they’re in because they think it’s all a bunch of horse shit but then they realize how much it means to these parents to know, or to think, that their son is in the photo. And they also want to sell war bonds because if somebody doesn’t raise a whole hell of alot of money they won’t have the equipment to win the war. (I don’t think Eastwood intends the movie as commentary on the Iraq war, but you can’t help but notice the contrast between this struggle to sell war bonds and the complete lack of direct sacrifice any of us make for the billions that are being poured into Iraq.)
It’s a hell of a cast, lots of people I didn’t expect to pop up. The main three are Philippe (CRUEL INTENTIONS), Jesse Bradford (the brother in BRING IT ON part 1) and Adam Beach (trying to get a do-over for WINDTALKERS). But also Robert Patrick is in there, the great Barry Pepper is playing a soldier again, that kid Jamie Bell who was good in UNDERTOW is in a crucial role, Melanie Lynskey (the other girl from HEAVENLY CREATURES) is there, John Slattery from that show K-STREET, Harve Presnell (remember the puff of feathers when he got shot in FARGO?). I was really hoping Paul Walker would blow the world away with a shockingly Oscar-worthy supporting role, but his part is small. David “Sledge Hammer” Rasche has a funny cameo (I’m still glad I didn’t go see UNITED 93 because I’m positive I would’ve started laughing and got lynched). I didn’t catch it but apparently Luther from THE WARRIORS plays Harry S. Truman. I also missed Paul Calderone (“My name is Paul, and this is between y’all” he said as the bartender in PULP FICTION) so somebody will have to tell me where he was. Another actor I like who’s in here is Neal McDonough. He was the bad guy in the remake of WALKING TALL and in my review I described him as “a big blonde meatwad who looks like either Paul Walker’s evil cousin or how Ian Ziering pictures himself in his fantasies.” So it was cool that he got to do a movie with Paul Walker. Sadly Ian Ziering isn’t in there (unless he was an extra).
But my problem with the movie is that like war, it’s too damn complicated. It’s one of those movies where you can sense pretty much from the beginning that you should’ve just read the book. You have the time leading up to and during the Battle of Iwo Jima, not told in chronological order. You have the war bonds tour, where the poor bastards keep getting put in awkward situations like having to put a flag on top of a paper mache mountain in the middle of a football stadium. Then you also have a whole storyline about the author of the book (the son of the guy played by Phillippe) going around interviewing veterans to find out what his dad did during the war, because his dad is dead. But later you have some scenes taking place right before his dad was dead. Because it’s always skipping between these four different time periods it gets pretty confusing trying to figure out which old man is supposed to be which young character, what everybody’s name is and what not. And it’s hard enough to tell them apart anyway because of the style of the movie. The colors are faded so that it almost looks black and white (thanks alot, UNDERWORLD), and they go for that shaky-cam/quasi-documentary style for the battles, so to me it’s just a bunch of grey people in helmets. I can never tell which character just died. They all look the same.
Confusing is a problem, but it’s not a deal-breaker. The bigger problem with this complicatedness is that it makes it hard to really connect with these characters as much as you should in a movie about this. I mean I liked them all well enough but I didn’t feel like I saw too deep into any of them. When it was over, despite a beautiful end credits sequence with Clint’s light jazz over a montage of real photos from Iwo Jima, there WAS a dry eye in the house. And I had two of them. It’s a shame that he could make a boxing movie that punches you in the gut emotionally but his Iwo Jima movie you gotta intellectualize to respect.
See, this is the opposite of what Clint is good at. His filmatic style is usually intimate, quiet, sparse, minimalistic. This one has the overambitious story, the epic CGI shots of oceans filled with battle ships, the chaotic battles. He did do his usual type of score (with his son Kyle playing) and that’s a lifesaver, because that adds some underplayed emotion to the thing instead of one of those majestic “CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW HEROIC THIS SHIT IS?” scores you’d usually get (see WINDTALKERS). But I still feel like this is a movie for someone else to make. Because it’s Clint it’s smart enough to bring up themes like this conflict between the heroic images of war and the messy truth, but because of the script it’s kind of clumsy about it. The thing was written by William Broyles (POLAR EXPRESS, PLANET OF THE APES re-amakening) and Paul Haggis (WALKER, TEXAS RANGER).
I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it too: Paul Haggis is gonna Haggis all over this thing, he’s gonna CRASH it up. Well, I kind of hate CRASH too but I stick by MILLION DOLLAR BABY. So I trust my man Clint to cut out all the big didactic speeches and shit. And he mostly does, but there are touches here and there that might cause you to stand up and yell
I haven’t read the book, I am ignorant of the true facts, so there are things in here that are fine if they’re real, and horrible if they’re made up. Like there’s a scene where the three heroes are served a dessert shaped like the soldiers raising the flag, covered in strawberry sauce. If that really happened that’s so crazy that of course they had to put it in there. If it didn’t happen, Paul Haggis is fucking nuts. There’s also a really touching scene that fucks up bad when the writer guy says, “You’re the best father a man could ever have!” If that was lifted directly from the book then I will forgive it, but even then they should’ve known how phony this “a man could ever have” business sounds, just like whatsisdick who raped you guys’s childhoods should’ve known how funny it was for Darth Vader to cry “NOOOOOO!!!”
They also deal with the fact that Adam Beach’s character is Native American, so he comes home to experience both an overblown hero’s welcome and some horrible racism. It’s an interesting irony complicated by the fact that this guy immediately becomes an alcoholic and spends most of his stateside time stumbling drunk, just like the racist characters would expect him to. I gotta assume they would never do this unless it comes from the real guy, but it still requires a light touch to work. The light touch of Clint combined with the jackhammer of Haggis equals medium touch, so it kind of works.
The last scene of the movie is sweet but almost laughable. He says he prefers to think of the soldiers the way his dad remembered them: in their underwear, wrestling and splashing each other. Hmmm. Well, you can see what they were going for.
This is not a terrible movie by any means, and some of you will think I’m smoking crack for not saying it’s the greatest thing ever, but I think it oughta be better. Still, nice effort Clint. Looking forward to the Japanese one (although they shoulda kept the original title, RED SUN, BLACK SAND, instead of the generic LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. Not sure if there will be a SNAKES ON A PLANE/PACIFIC AIR FLIGHT 151 style uproar over that one, but there oughta be.)
Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/30362