"George A. never saw John Wayne on the sands of Iwo Jima."
Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood's words about his uncle are also very fitting to Clint Eastwood's war flick at its strongest points.
What makes it hit hard is, though he had a bevy of young stars to work with, he makes two things clear at the outset: These were ordinary people and they were headed into a serious clusterfuck. There's no more polite way to accurately portray the earliest stages of the Battle of Iwo Jima as Eastwood re-created them.
Though he occasionally overreaches for a gotcha moment, the battle is intense and appropriately hard to watch, especially through the eyes of two of our "heroes," played by Ryan Philippe and Adam Beach. After an opening battle sequence, much of the movie bounces back-and-forth between the two of them and Jesse Bradford on tour as "the heroes of Iwo Jima," who raised the flag in that unforgettable photo, and flashbacks to the battle in the minds of Beach and Philippe. This segmented approach keeps the story moving along briskly until the end, which I'll mention later.
It's on the homefront, pimped out in front of large crowds to raise money for war bonds, that these men go through their real hell. And it's where Eastwood's skills as a filmmaker shine even brighter than they did on the battlefield.
Even if you had read the book and knew all of this story going in, I guarantee you'll still be jarred seeing them on stage in front of a roaring crowd in Times Square. It's Jon Polito, not Adolf Hitler, on stage to introduce them, but it's still a moment that would have made Leni Riefenstahl proud.
And it's on the homefront that the actors really shine too. I went in fully expecting to be annoyed by Ryan Philippe, but he did fine. Adam Beach, however, is worthy of all the hype he's getting for this one and more. I've liked him ever since "Smoke Signals," and I'll be smiling when they call his name on Oscar night. On the front, Barry Pepper is outstanding also, and is deserving of a supporting actor nod.
OK, so far so good, right? If it had ended there, I'd be putting "Flags of Our Fathers" on my Top 10 list for this year (though there are many great ones I haven't gotten to yet.) But Eastwood wouldn't be Eastwood if he didn't have to pound us over the head with his message, just in case anyone missed it along the way.
I blame Steven Spielberg, co-producer of "Flags," for this one, because I had the same reaction to "Munich." After a taut story well told, he tacked on at least five too many endings. As Eastwood does here.
The tone shifts abruptly when he lets the voice of "Flags of Our Fathers" author James Bradley, played in the movie by Thomas McCarthy, take over and tell us, several times in voiceover, what the point of the movie was supposed to be. In case this wasn't enough infantilizing of the audience, Eastwood then feels the need to wrap up every single loose end, sucking any remaining mystery and life out of the flick.
I'm sorry if that sounds a bit harsh, but I hate getting treated like an infant at the movies, especially since it comes so close to destroying this otherwise worthy entry to the World War II flick canon.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Posted by Reel Fanatic at 2:51 PM