Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers (Movie Review)

I'm about to admit something that would make me tremendously unpopular among film professionals.

But not many folks read these pages — least of all Hollywood celebrities and studios looking for writers "just like me" — so it's only with slight hesitation that I admit...

While I haven't seen all of the films Clint Eastwood has directed... I haven't enjoyed the ones I did.

OK, go ahead. Gasp. I hear you already, "But I loved Mystic River!" and "Didn't Million Dollar Baby get all sorts of Academy Awards?"

Most people "loved" it... and, yes, it did.

And knowing that perhaps only elevated my distaste for both movies. The Mystic River (2003) plot relied too heavily on bizarre coincidences — which culminated in some of the most laughable dialogue I've yet to witness in "serious" drama. And the "plot twist" in Million Dollar Baby (2004) turned an "OK" movie about a boxer into a blase treatment of euthanasia.

"What about Bridges of Madison County?" you ask.

It's been awhile since I've seen it and — though I do recall finding it to be "touching" in parts — I didn't love it as much as many folks did. But I certainly thought more of it than I did the other two aforementioned films.

Which brings me to the actual point of this review: Eastwood's newest, Flags of Our Fathers (2006). In Flags, Eastwood tells the story of the men depicted in perhaps Joe Rosenthal's most recognizable war photograph.

I'm speaking of course of those six men who planted the American flag on Iwo Jima during WWII. Three died before the war was over and — though we do get to know them "on the field" — Flags really focuses on the three "heroes" who survived. It also explores the controversy behind the photograph, and espouses one of the more commonly accepted explanations for why it has been difficult to name, with absolute certainty, the men in the picture.

But it does a little more than that, too. It explores the emotional and psychological complexities the men experienced... both on the battlefield, and off. It relies in large part on the Native American Marine, Ira Hayes, to explore these issues. Hayes resented the moniker "hero," and — along with Navy medic John "Doc" Bradley (one of the other five who helped him raise the flag) — Hayes likewise resents being used as a "money raising machine" by the American government. We see through Hayes just how, exactly, the U.S. government treats its "heroes" — something I'm sorry to report hasn't changed much today (or have we finally started to give our troops the proper equipment on the field... and the proper mental, financial and health care when they return?).

And I don't know if it's because of my general distaste for war movies, or my general dislike for Eastwood films... but somehow two negatives joined to make a lukewarm positive. In short: I liked this better than Baby, and I liked this better than River. Though I still wouldn't nominate it for any awards.

So that, of course, means this film isn't getting the rave reviews that greeted his two previous Oscar phenoms. It's hovering in the lower 70s on Rotten Tomatoes. Not a bad overall rating, but rather bleak in comparison to the 90's given to the other two films.

So what didn't I like about it?

  • The graphic violence, for one. A given with most war movies, though, and one of the main reasons I didn't want to see this in the first place (watching a man stuff his guts back into his abdominal cavity does NOT appeal to me in the least).
  • The overdone — albeit touching — scenes where Eastwood stretches for irony and contrast, leaving the camera on for a tad to long (i.e. an otherwise powerful point becomes lost in cliche). Keep an eye out for the Japanese soldier/American soldier scene... and the strawberry dressing... and you'll see what I mean.
  • The "interview" framework took me by surprise (though I don't believe it's meant to catch us off guard) and seemed forced on film (though it may have worked in the book — I haven't read it to know).
  • The discernible tinge of a political agenda (even if I do agree)
Otherwise... not bad. But certainly not something I would recommend to anyone looking for a pick-me-up (as I was last night).


disgruntled world citizen said...

I haven't seen the movie but I have read the book, so I may be speaking out of turn, but I find it almost ironic that this film has been made. Those men would not have wanted to be highlight lke that, after reading the book I came to the conslusion that there was a reason why no one from that generation really spoke about their experience: they were just doing a job that needed to be done. Granted, it was horrible and scary and any other adjective you might come up with, but it was a job they were called, they answered.

I've found it interesting the way the movie has been marketed. If the movie follows the book the Battle of Iwo is just violent prelude, the real story is about how the government used the survivors and theh picture to drum up funds.

I haven't heard much about the film review-wise, but what I have heard pretty much agrees with you. I think that the public is just gettin worn out with real war and violence and maybe a little bored with World War II movies. I've heard that Flags hasn't been doing gangbusters at the boxoffice.

I think I'll wait for DVD and netflix it.

michele said...

I have to agree with disgruntled world citizen that at least this member of the viewing public is tired of war movies (not that I've ever had a great passion for them in the past).

The only Eastwood movie I ever really liked was _Unforgiven_. I don't know if that puts me in the same category you'd put yourself in, but you're not alone in being less than dazzled by his film-making and acting.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Yep, you're both quite right. We've had so much "real" war lately — and a flood of WWII films — that that in itself may account for the drop in positive ratings. I certainly think it's better than some of his previous films... but still no masterpiece.

As for Unforgiven, I'd have to revisit it to offer any real opinion. It's been ages since I watched it.

DWC - It is mostly about the way the three men were treated once they return home. The war scenes and graphic violence, I guess, were intended to impress the importance of what they'd done prior to being taken advantage of by the government.