Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Ryan Phillipe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Benjamin Hickey, John Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker, Robert Patrick, Neal McDonough, Chris Bauer
Synopsis: Six men became national heroes after a photographer took an image of them raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. This is a film telling their stories, both before the event, and during the media circus that surrounded them afterwards.
To watch this film hoping for a typical war film is an absolutely a mistake. This film is more of a character drama than a war film. The main concern addressed is the nature of being a hero, and of hero worship. For the three surviving men from the above image return home to almost absurd adulation. Yet they personally question whether they deserve such praise, with various extremes of coping displayed by each.
Flags of our Fathers does not portray these men as heroes, it portrays them as simple men, all of whom are well aware war is not about glory, but horror. Beach plays a native American soldier whom is most devastatingly affected. He feels that he has performed some horrendous action, indeed he does not wish to be named when the publicity for the photo begins buzzing. When he does return home, he resorts to alcohol, embarrassing himself on more than one occasion. Phillipe plays a Doctor whom remains guilty for the lives that he did not save, with the memory of friend “Iggy” (Bell), seeming to be one to haunt him until his old age. Bradford’s character takes celebrity in his stride, yet when he is yesterday’s news, his future no longer looks as bright.
This is a tough film to peg down. There are frequent time shifts, starting with these lead characters as old men, then regularly swapping between their time at Iwo Jima and then to their return home. The logic behind this is valid, as there are some shocks from one time period which are then used to immediately influence the other. It can be very distracting, and indeed very confusing at times. More often than not, I was confused concerning which character was witch, and trying to reconcile each persona between time frames. I just went with it, and the ending did have an appropriate emotional impact, yet overall enjoyment of the film was affected.
The acting itself was brilliant, with a lot of the bigger stars almost unrecognisable from their most famous roles. Phillipe is having an interesting career trajectory… his acting is getting better as his star value is waning, a quite unfortunate irony. Slattery plays a character just trying to sell war bonds, yet the character remains clearly distinct from his Mad Men advertising giant. Jamie Bell has a smaller but significant role that has stuck with me since the final credits. Yet it was an actor I was less familiar with, Beach, whom really stands out. Of all the characters, his is the one that, though almost embarrassingly flawed, has the clearest insight into the absurdity of his situation. His performance is a true stand out.
This is a film worth seeing, there is no doubt, if for no other reason than to shed light on the story of a very recognisable image of WWII. Unfortunately though, as a film it has a confusing structure which at times can distract, a flaw even more apparent from a director as skilled as Eastwood.
3.5 stars out of 5