Ryan Phillippe …. John “Doc” Bradley
Jesse Bradford …. Rene Gagnon
Adam Beach …. Ira Hayes
John Benjamin Hickey …. Keyes Beech
John Slattery …. Bud Gerber
Barry Pepper …. Mike Strank
Jamie Bell …. Ralph “Iggy” Ignatowski
Paul Walker …. Hank Hansen
Robert Patrick …. Colonel Chandler Johnson
Neal McDonough …. Captain Severance
Melanie Lynskey …. Pauline Harnois
Thomas McCarthy …. James Bradley
Dreamworks SKG and Warner Brothers present Flags of our Fathers. Based on the book Flags of our Fathers: Heroes of Iwo Jima by James Bradley and Ron Powers. Adapted for the screen by William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis. Running time: 132 minutes. Rated R (for sequences of graphic war violence and carnage, and for language). Released on DVD: February 6, 2007. Available at Amazon.com.
When everyone heard about Clint Eastwood making two simultaneous war films, movie fans were elated. The marketing made Flags out to be Eastwood’s Saving Private Ryan. That’s why many people didn’t care for it when they walked out of the theaters, because the advertisement portrayed everything the movie wasn’t about. This is a tale about the soldiers, not the war. A story about their regrets and how they were being portrayed as heroes for something they felt was inconsequential. When it was announced that Clint Eastwood would be dealing with something so iconic as the rising of the flag at Iwo Jima as his next project, people were already anticipating what he had planned.
In WWII, America was as close to broke as you can be, we couldn’t even afford to manufacture bullets. If it weren’t for that iconic image from Iwo Jima, a valid argument could be made that the States would have soon pulled out of the war. We couldn’t afford it. Until that image on top of Suribachi was put on the front page of just about every news paper and rejuvenated the hope and American spirit inside of every US citizen. But we still needed money, so the government struck while the iron was hot and flew home their boys who were there, in hopes to get citizens to buy war bonds and help continue to fund the US’s stake in the war. Only once the picture is discovered and the people in power see it as a viable way reinvigorate the publics care for the war, they send word for the soldiers photographed to come home. Only by the time that happened, there were only three soldiers from the photo who were still alive.
Flags of our Fathers focuses on the lives of the three remaining soldiers who raised the second flag (yes, there were two) atop Mount Suribachi. Those soldiers were Rene Gagnon, who spent most of his time being a runner, and seems more interested in being a hero than a soldier. He even admits to joining he marines just so he could look the part in uniform; John “Doc” Bradley, played by Ryan Phillippe, is the voice of reason in the group who only lucked out of the war by getting his leg cut up by shrapnel while trying to take care of a soldiers wounds on the battlefield. He spends most of the film trying to avoid making waves and doing what is asked of him by his country; And then there’s Ira Hayes, perhaps the most compelling character of the entire movie. Ira is the one character in the film that seems to be fully developed and avoids all of the jingoistic lines of dialogue or flag waving. He’s a guy who is being both heralded for being a US soldier who just so happens to be Native American, while also being shunned by some for the exact same reason.
And then there’s the modern material. Where we have Doc’s son suddenly as the lead character who is here mainly to help wrap-up the story. As if it’s afraid to either leave unanswered questions or leave on a more ambiguous ending. No, instead we have him both at the beginning, end and sprinkled in to the middle with interviews with the character in their twilight years, only it’s hard to keep track of who we’re listening to and who their younger counter part was. The last half hour of the movie feels a need to wrap up the loose ends to the story, but it does so in a very dry and heavy-handed manor.
The first act of the movie is a slow burn, which tends to happen for these types of war films, and it flys by relatively quickly. The main problem with this part is that it starts out at a very unnecessary slow pace. Going on and on about how pictures can make or break a country’s faith during war time, and the way they go about this is an obvious reflection on modern times in its story.
Act two is where the true heart of the movie lies, it’s where the movie really finds a rhythm. Where we see these men being herded like cattle from one meet and greet to another, pushing the American public to buy war bonds, spewing the same sales pitch each and every time. they show us how the soldiers were manufactured in to heroes. We also get to see some of them struggle with survivors guilt, telling themselves how the other men should be in their shoes, how what they did is nothing in comparison to what the men on that island sacrificed.
However, the third and final act of the film feels like a completely different movie. The film is constructed in to a very coherent story unto itself, but it feels a need to tack a thirty minute prologue of sorts to wrap everything up when the actual flashbacks are where the movie shines. Where had they stuck to just that part of the movie Eastwood may have had two certifiable classics released in one year.
This is a clear cut case where, even though I haven’t yet had the chance to read it, I can tell that the book was better. There’s a lack of a compelling narrative here, it’s so stale and generic that there is no room to really let the story find itself. Instead, the movie imposes an overlaying story that it’s boxing the rest of the film in to. We’re given enough reason as to why we should care, but not enough to actually make us care. It’s so focused on getting every little detail in to the movie that it begins to lose sight of giving our main characters multiple layers.
The material in the film that focus on modern day America still feels unnecessary and overly reaching in terms of it being flat out exposition. The flashbacks carry the movie themselves and clearly carry the entire story and message that is trying to be put across without being so straight forward or blunt about it. But the modern material is so ingrained in the story’s narrative that it can’t be taken out without the movie becoming disjointed.
When it was first theatrically released, this reviewer didn’t care much or Flags of our Fathers. And I’m not alone, as numerous other critics weren’t very impressed with Eastwood’s latest outing. But the movie has really grown on me with repeat viewings.
It pains me to give Clint’s latest a review that is anything but glowing, however, Flags is at best a mediocre film. While not bad by any stretch of the imagination, there is clearly a better film hiding in here somewhere that Eastwood is unable to find. And at times it’s clear that he’s having some trouble putting things together. With the story continuously jumping from upwards of four different time frames it never finds the time to let us get to know these characters in ways other than how they carry themselves. Which should not be the case for a movie based on factual people and events, and especially when based on such an historical one.
(Presented in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen)
There is a huge advantage to the movie being a barebone release, and that is the added disc space for audio and video. This is a nearly reference quality DVD that will look impeccable on any display. Eastwood chose to use different levels of saturation during the movie and that stylistic choice is perfectly, perfectly reproduced here.
(English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, English 2.0 Surround)
Again, this movie only DVD leaves plenty of room for the technical aspects — and Flags of our Fathers makes ample use of that space. This disc sounds phenomenal, but only during the big bombastic battle scenes. The rest of the movie tends to be less about surround sound and more about the front speakers. But boy, when they have all five speakers and the subwoofer going at full volume, it’s a true experience.
There are no extras to speak of on this release, the main menu doesn’t even include a chapter selection page it’s so bare. There are however Trailers for Letters from Iwo Jima and Babel (5:06) that plays before you get to the main menu, for whatever that’s worth.
Picking it up now doesn’t seem to make much sense seeing as a two-disc set is already in the works with a May 22nd release date — but the movie is still worth a rental. It’ll also be put out in a five-disc Commemorative Collector’s Edition release on the 22nd with Letters from Iwo Jima and the Heroes of Iwo Jima DVD that include the A&E documentary by the same name, and the Oscar Nominated 1945 short film To the Shores of Iwo Jima.