Sunday, October 22, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers


"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.

22 comments:

Lori said...

Seems I really have no life this weekend, my second time being first to comment in as many days.

Anyway, thanks for the review. Disappointing to hear that it kind of falls apart at the end. Would you say that it's as much the writers' fault as Speilberg's? Not that I doubt Steve's sledgehammer influence, but I was just wondering as I saw Paul Haggis on Shootout this morning w/Clint, who gave a pretty good interview despite all the frenzied ass-kissing going on on everybody's part. Ick. Think I'll save this one for rental.

Nice to hear about Adam Beach's performance...I remember thinking he was the only decent thing about 'Windtalkers,' another severly disappointing execution of a great idea for a WWII movie.

Anonymous said...

Having gone seen The Prestige, I didn't get a chance to catch Flags of Our Fathers. Being fairly familiar with the history of the Battle of Iwo Jima, I was really looking forward to it. Rather disappointing to hear that James Bradley in narration explains the whole point of the movie, given that I think most audiences could figure it out for themselves, but I am sure that won't ruin the movie for me. At least I hope not. Anyhow, it still sounds worth seeing!

Reel Fanatic said...

I think, up until the last 20 minutes or so, Haggis did a great job with the script for this one, Lori, largely because he was working with some great source material

Divinity said...

I avoid war movies on the most part but Paul Haggis' writing credit will probably be enough to get me into the seat. Barry Pepper is on the front page of our local independent paper, The Georgia Straight, this week and I suppose it's a testiment to his outstanding job being despicable in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada that I can't pass by one of the newstands without feeling slightly nauseous at the sight of his face.
Our local "commercial" paper has tapped Philippe, Dunst, and Helen Mirren for Oscars with a front page triptech. Betcha Mirren never expected to be included in such company! :P

Reel Fanatic said...

Having seen Marie Antoinette, Divinity, I can't imagine it will be even a possibility that we'll be hearing Kirsten Dunst's name on Oscar night, but I've been wrong many, many times before

Anonymous said...

Do you think Kiki won't get nominated cos the performance was bad? Or because the film was bad?

(I just don't want her to get nominated.)

Reel Fanatic said...

I don't think it's necessarily because the movie is bad, Emma, though in many ways it is .. Mostly, I think it will get snubbed entirely for awards because the whole thing is just far too silly for the stuffed shirts that hand out the Oscars

SamuraiFrog said...

I went to see Flags of Our Fathers yesterday, and I agree about the ending. I was with it up until about the last half hour or so (and Adam Beach was definitely the best part of the film). I don't know who to blame, but I notice that Steven Spielberg (and his buddy Robert Zemeckis, for that matter) can't end a film without 15 or so endings that pump his movies up to an unneccesary two and three-quarter hours. It's an art to be succinct.

Paul Haggis rewrote a script by William Broyles Jr., the same man who wrote Apollo 13 and Cast Away, both of which also lasted 45 or so minutes longer than they should have.

Reel Fanatic said...

The Broyles input may be a factor in this that I didn't think of, Samuraifrog, but until I hear otherwise, I'm gonna blame Spielberg for the ending

Chalupa said...

This is another one I've been looking forward to. That's too bad the ending sucks. Maybe his second version from the Japanese point of view will be better.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm thinking it will be, Chalupa ... Don't let my words keep you from seeing the first one, though .. up until the end, it is a damn fine war flick

marina said...

It took this long but you finally nailed what had been bothering me about "Munich".

Bummer. I thought this might be a good one to take hubby out for but maybe not. I'm still eagerly awaiting the second film in this duo which I think has potential to be amazing. I hope it doesn't suffer from the same problem.

Passion of the Weiss said...

If I had to guess on the reason why Flags felt Heavy Handed I would turn no further than Paul "Iron Hands" Haggis, the most leaden mind in America.

Reel Fanatic said...

If you and hubby like war flicks, Marina, I'd still at least lukewarmly recommend this one ... And Mr. Weiss, I know I'm in the vast minority here, but I flat out hated "Crash," so I too have little love for Mr. Haggis

Dilch said...

Hey
Thanks for stopping by my blog, though I completlely DISAGREE with you about Lorelai and Luke, and I'm really scared the writers will listen to people like your fine self and break her and Chris up. Can you not see that you're only buying the luke stuff cos they've been dangling it in front of your eyes for 6 seasons, but if you think about it, Chris was always there, in the background, but it was never the right time, now it is, he gets her, he can quip with the best of them, he's way cuter than luke, has way better dress sense, and he can appeal to her rougher side, as well as her gilmore side - you know he can go to new york, go the opera, something luke would never do...
Anyways, as you can see I feel very strongly on the topic, but hey if joey can end up with pacey, Chris can end up with lorelai.
By the way, I read an earlier post of yours, studio 60 in trouble, please say it isn't so...its one of my favourite new shows
As to the point of this blog, unfortunately none of those films have come out here yet, but i'll look out for them when they do....

Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to like Eastwood's films, but I've almost always been pushed back by something he's decided to keep in. So far the only Eastwood flick to get my unwavering approval is White Hunter, Black Heart. But the critics clearly adore him, and this usually shows up in their reviews.

Reel Fanatic said...

We'll just have to agree to disagree (peacefully, of course) about Luke and Lorelai, dilch ... I can see arguments for Christopher (which you make passionately), but I guess you're right that I've just been sold on Luke over the years of viewing .. here's hoping tonight's episode rocks

Cowtown Pattie said...

Reel,

Good review!

Movie will be an Oscar contender for several categories most assuredly.

Eastwood's "voice" has really changed (for the better, I think) over the years. He is far far away from Outlaw Josey Wales.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks, Pattie ... I think you're right about the Oscars .. It may even sneak in for Best Picture, but with the way it ended, it certainly wouldn't get my vote

hip_ragdoll said...

There's very little "acting" in Marie Antoinette for Kiki (as someone called her) to be nominated for an Oscar...

However, the real question here (for me anyway) is whether or not Clint will be nominated, and whether or not "Flags..." will win. Considering Martin Scorsese might finally win for "The Departed," and lost last time to Clint, I'd bet he's in a rather good mood that his 'dark horse' is beating this film at the box office. Just my two cents.

Reel Fanatic said...

If I had a vote and it came down to the two of them, I would vote for The Departed over Flags of Our Fathers every time ... I think they both be nominated, and this time Scorsese will hopefully triumph, at least if academy voters that movies can be both FUN and GOOD all at once

Ziomal said...

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