Friday, May 18, 2007

Flags Of Our Fathers

The Verdict: Self-important, soporific, slow-moving stuff. A short story told long-windedly in a very disjointed and heavy-handed manner.

The Rating:

Ok, first things first, and just to get it out of the way, Clint Eastwood is a legend. I have a habit on this site of reminding you of work someone has previously done, just in case you were unfamiliar with other stuff they've worked on, but in this case, I'm going to presume you've heard of Clint Eastwood, and possibly even seen one or two of his films. (Probably a safe enough bet - Ed). In 'Flags of Our Fathers', the first of an inter-continental tag-team of tales treating the battles of Iwo Jima in WWII, Clint tells a story of war with some contemporary relevance, and possibly even some personal relevance to himself.

The story involves the use of the iconic image - also used in the movie poster - of the U.S. troops raising a stars'n'stripes on the island of Iwo Jima in 1944. The image was used to promote the war effort back home, and it was so iconic and representative of courage and effort that it galvanised the American nation, convincing the folks back home that they were winning the war. The men in the photo were made heroes by the political establishment, symbols of a victorious war effort, and a reason for you folks to buy War Bonds to further fund the military effort...

The thing is, the flag was raised five days into a 40-day battle. The guys who were plucked out of the military to promote this image of victory were the only survivors out of the group of roughly twelve men there to raise the flags (there were actually two flags raised). Ira, the indian private, did not even raise the flag, but was named as one of the heroes.

The theme here is possible one close to Clint's own experiences: people need heroes. It is a theme universal to all cultures that heroes, with their legendary tales of execptional bravery, form part of our cultural make-up. Symbols, too are important, and the idea of an image travelling round the world to signal military success has contemporary relevance. Remember the statue of Saddam being toppled? Hooray, the witch is dead! ... the symbol is powerful, and even though the reality following that moment has been less than ideal, politicians and the media used it for endless mileage.. the same situation happens in this movie.

However, the thing is, the story of Flags of our Fathers doesn't really take that long to tell. (Um, didn't you just tell it? - Ed) As with 'Million Dollar Baby', I felt this movie would have benefitted from losing roughly half an hour. Certainly, in the last twenty minutes I descended into a bit of a bored stupor. I imagine that, towards the end, when the narrator started lines with something like 'And as for Ira..', his writer was aiming for the gravitas of Richard Dreyfus in 'Stand By Me'. Unfortunately, this voice-over ended up more like Kevin from 'the Wonder Years.'

However, the battle footage, as you would expect nowadays, is jaw-droppingly good stuff. The air battles feel more like 'Star Wars' than 'Dambusters', and the infantry-led beach-storming scenes are gritty, bloody and evocative of 'The Big Red One' or of course the deservedly ubiquitous 'Private Ryan'.

However, overall I didn't particularly like this movie as a piece of entertainment. The cast were generally pretty average, with Barry Pepper possibly the only one standing out as Mike, one of the unsung heroes who died on the island without any recognition or fanfare. The rest of the cast were pretty much perfunctory, with Adam Beach as Ira in particular doing a average job with a thoroughly annoying lead character. This guy bursts into tears in about seven separate scenes, and it just became grating after a while.

The choppy, incoherent narrative takes us from present day to the battelefield and the aftermath alternatively, and was unnecessarily confusing, which is surprising, considering the omni-present Paul Haggis co-wrote the screenplay.

So, overall, it's an intelligent film but not very entertaining. It's an 'interesting' story that fans of the war movie genre will probably get something out of, but for a more rounded war-movie experience deaing with themes of racial integration in the military in a gripping and intelligent manner, 'Indigènes' is far superior, and a much more enertaining film.

Rumour has it 'Letters From Iwo Jima' is the better of Clint's Iwo Jima twin-set, but apologies Mr. Eastwood, I didn't like this one all that much.

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