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Flags of Our Fathers

#692 - Flags of Our Fathers
Clint Eastwood, 2006

Based on the true story of the men who appeared in the iconic photo of an American flag being raised during the battle for Iwo Jima during World War II.

I go back and forth on whether or not I like Clint Eastwood as a director. He's certainly made some good movies, bu sometimes it's easy to feel like he's just...okay as far as his directorial career goes. Flags of Our Fathers is probably as middling as Eastwood movies are likely to get. It has an interesting concept in that it is based on the behind-the-scenes events surrounding one of the most iconic images in American history; that of a group of soldiers raising the American flag in the middle of a decisive conflict on the island of Iwo Jima. The film jumps about in time, starting off decades after the fact as one veteran becomes deathly ill while another starts narrating the story of what happened. From there, it flits between what happened on that eventful day and also what happens in the meantime as the three surviving members of that photograph (Ryan Philippe, Jesse Bradford, and Adam Beach) are subsequently pulled from active duty and paraded around by the powers-that-be as manufactured war heroes who are made to re-enact their traumatic experience for the gratification of the folks back home. Though things are kept a success on the outside thanks to a tireless team of spokespeople and agents, on the inside the core trio are breaking apart for a number of reasons.

While Flags of Our Fathers isn't necessarily a bad film, it's not exactly one that leaves too much of an impression. One does have to give Eastwood some credit for staging some solid wartime action, even if it does hew a little too close to the frenetic nature of the iconic sequences featured in Saving Private Ryan. At least the careful pacing of revelations regarding the events of that particular day is handled reasonably well. The aftermath proves okay but not striking as it covers the trio's attempts to adjust to life on tour - Beach's character becomes the most notable in that regard as he is made to endure considerable racism (both blatant and subtle) due to his Native American heritage, which only dovetails as his survivor's guilt and alcoholism continue to worsen. In comparison, Bradford's affiliation with his sweetheart (Melanie Lynskey) proves a sticking point for his public-relations agents; Philippe's own survivor's guilt feeds into the proceedings considerably as his engagement with the demands of the heroes' tour only makes his recollections of the actual events prove increasingly troubling.

Flags of Our Fathers is fairly ambitious in how it attempts to jump between different moments in history so as to tell the stories of the men involved and, to a lesser extent, those of the people affected in both great and small ways. This does get a little confusing as the film takes most of its running time to establish the person looking to collect the stories of what happened, which does make it feel underweight when it reaches a conclusion in the most recent time period where these heroes have aged out of their supposedly glorious youths. It's good for one watch, but that's about all there is to this film. I give it credit for attempting to paint a layered portrait of the ugly truth behind a supposedly glorious image, but that doesn't stop it running through some fairly standard period-piece developments that fail to make the film stand out in any sufficiently meaningful way. If you're looking to go through Eastwood's directorial filmography, then this is hardly the worst film you could watch, but that's only because it leaves no serious impact rather than any seriously negative impact. Still looking forward to checking out companion film Letters From Iwo Jima, though.