Flags of Our Fathers
At 76 years of age, Hollywood living legend Clint Eastwood crowns his glorious career with his most ambitious film to date. Flags of Our Fathers is not his best film, but it’s an impressively epic endeavour, the first of two grand scale films shot back-to-back that recreate the battle for the Pacific island of Iwo Jima, which marked a turning point in America’s war with Japan. Letters From Iwo Jima, which is released next year, tells the story from the point of view of the Japanese; Flags of Our Fathers, which is adapted by Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis from James Bradley’s book about his father’s involvement in Iwo Jima, focuses exclusively on the American military experience.
The conflict is portrayed at length, and with the same horribly exhilarating detail that made the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan so eye-opening. But beyond the battle itself the film tells the story of the iconic photograph of the US servicemen who raised the Stars and Stripes in victory on a mountaintop on Iwo Jima. To that end, Flags of Our Fathers dodges back and forth between the frontline on the black sandy beaches of the island and back home in America, where three soldiers (including Bradley’s father Doc, played by Ryan Phillippe) lead a fundraising effort to finance the rest of the war.
The juxtaposition between the ethical minefield experienced by the soldiers doing their patriotic, but as they see it, morally bankrupt duty back home and the simple, brutal reality of Iwo Jima makes for thought-provoking cinema. And it’s quite provocative given the current climate of America’s overseas military engagement in Iraq (despite the fact that African American soldiers, a large contingent at Iwo Jima, do not figure in the story at all). But these twin narrative strands are also something of a problem for Eastwood. The constant cutting back and forth between the frontline and home make for confused plotting, and the pinball like bumping from action to talking eventually undermines the effect of both. Worse, the fates of the veteran Doc Bradley and his buddies are crammed into the last few minutes of what feels like an overlong film. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how Eastwood handles the Japanese experience of Iwo Jima; that film has however had its release date brought forward so it may be considered for an Oscar after this film totally stiffed in the US.