Sunday, March 04, 2007

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS




CAST: RYAN PHILLIPPE, JESSE BRADFORD, ADAM BEACH, PAUL WALKER, BARRY PEPPER, JOHN BENJAMIN HICKEY,
DIRECTOR: CLINT EASTWOOD
RUNTIME: 132 min.
RATING: ***
GENRE: WAR, ANTI-WAR, DRAMAS, TRUE STORY, WORLD WAR II

You got to give it to Clint Eastwood, if you haven’t yet; this man is 76 and is churning out quality movies that other directors half his age would dream of making in a lifetime. One thing to be said though, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS isn’t nearly as good as his two previous efforts, MYSTIC RIVER and MILLION DOLLAR BABY. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is interesting, admirable but quite frankly boring in parts. The movie sometimes gets so over the top, melodramatic that you lose all interest.
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is based on the book of the same name by James Bradley and Ron Powers. It is based on the battle of Iwo Jima and more importantly deals with one of the iconic war images of all time- Joe Rosenthal’s image of soldiers hoisting the American flag on top of the highest point of Iwo Jima and deconstructing the myth behind that image. The image itself is shown in several bombastic US marine movies like A FEW GOOD MEN and this is where the reality kicks in to blast the myth.
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS bears more resemblance to Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece SAVING PRIVATE RYAN than any other movie of this genre. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS bears similarity to SAVING PRIVATE RYAN not just in the technical department with the war sequences; it also bears more than a passing resemblance in its theme as well. Spielberg initially had the adaptation of the book under DreamWorks but wasn’t particularly interested in the result but things worked after a meeting with Eastwood and he turned the executive producer. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was about ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is about the same and much more.
The war sequences are fantastic to say the least. That’s expected, considering the men behind the project, but they’re comparable to SAVING PRIVATE RYAN’S Omaha beach invasion. Although not as visceral, they still knock a punch and come across as the best war images to be filmed since SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and THE THIN RED LINE.
But the movie loses steam once it passes the initial battle. It tends to get heavy handed and at times unbearable to sit through. There’s sequence where strawberry is poured on some ice cream in the shape of Iwo Jima. First and foremost, images like these aren’t needed in the first place when your point is already made. And then Eastwood lets the camera stay on the image for a while. That is when you almost feel like raising you arms up and ask somebody to the roll the movie a bit faster.
Then there’s the movie’s weakest sequence, an alarming piece of absolutely clich├ęd film making from one of cinema’s jewels. The three soldiers who have been given the responsibility of selling war bonds back home and earn money to fund the great war, US navy corpsman John ‘Doc’ Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), US marine Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), Para marine of the US Marine Corps Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) are supposed to recreate the hoisting on a dummy cliff in a stadium. In one unbearable sequence, as the three soldiers run atop, the movie keeps flashing forward and backward to the war memories of these soldiers. Not even the most sensitive person in the audience would feel the sequence; instead it feels like every step will take us on a boring round trip back into memory lane. And numerous characters are dispensed away at this juncture. I somehow got the notion that this was supposed to be the movies central sequence but it came across contrived, boring and unmoving.
The other major flaw is the proper introduction of the characters. There’s a sequence of the three soldiers who meet the parents of their fellow soldiers dead in the war and you need to listen to conversations about characters that you don’t remember at all. I remembered Hank, but who was Harlon and who the hell was Franklin. It is when these characters die that you tend to know them. That is one big flaw of the movie and it fails to make any sort of emotional attachment with the audience.
There’re needless sequences of Ira Hayes and his ancestry. Mention it once fine; mention it twice okay but it just keeps going on and on. There’s an absolutely needless sequence involving Hayes where he creates a broil on the street. It was absolutely needless and quite frankly put me off.
The screenplay by Paul Haggis (CRASH, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CASINO ROYALE) and William Broyle’s Jr. (CAST AWAY, THE POLAR EXPRESS, JARHEAD) is a major letdown. There’s too much of the crisscross motion between times- the movie tends to run in three different time zones and none of it is seamless. Frankly it is not the confusion that is a problem, it actually gets boring. The movie is strangely incoherent in some places for an Eastwood movie. Even the worst Eastwood movies like BLOODWORK are solid pieces as far as the plot goes. He also gives the background score which is one of the elements of the movie I truly admired.
Eastwood is great; it is disappointing because it comes from Eastwood. When it’s Eastwood, I expect nothing else. Had it been any other director, this would have been a feather in his cap. The movie’s good, very good and better than most motion pictures around including many nonsense war movies this year like FLYBOYS and in recent years, but it still is disappointing because it is Eastwood. There’re sequences of undeniable power and then there’re sequences that never should have made in front of our eyes.
The performances are fine, nothing special. Beach has the more histrionic potential role and he does a good job. Others are fine including Ryan Phillippe who impressed me the most.
The movie is 132 minutes long and it could have been shorter by at least 20 minutes. And the movie feels overlong when the needless after life of three central characters are shown, stuff that could easily be put in letters and be shown with 30 seconds against a black background or more importantly against the photographs of the real soldiers.
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS seems to tell us some kind of startling revelation about heroism. I for one wasn’t startled neither was it a revelation. And the movie kept harping over and over again about the same theme about heroism.
If you care about wars and soldiers, please be seated when the end credits roll on. Eastwood’s rigorous attention to detail is on full display as we’re taken through a collection of still photographs. I was moved by the movie, not as much as expected, but these black and white stills were a zillion times more powerful then the preceding feature film.

2 comments:

beenu said...

ur reviews r fantastic.After reading ur this review i read ur other reviews aswell.....i can only think of ur passion for movies.i wud love to read the review for departed............

Anonymous said...

hi,
ur commentary about the war movies is great.............kudos...........!!