*** Official FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS Review Thread

Chuck Mayer

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Flags of Our Fathers

I live in DC, so I have visited the memorial a few times. I didn't get to see it with Eastwood or Beach or Haggis...but I did sit right behind three Iwo vets. That's not a small thing. I attended the 50th Anniversary of Iwo Jima over a decade ago. Bill Clinton spoke, and there were more Medal of Honor winners in one place than had probably ever been...except in the actual battle a half-century before. I am a Navy man, with great affection for the U.S. Marines, and an abiding love of soldiers. Plenty of people confuse that with being pro-military, but the military and the soldiers are NOT the same thing. I make a hobby (of sorts) of seeing how they are portrayed, and how the themes that shape their lives and deaths are explored. I have read the book the film is based on, and it's a great one. The title is great, and the scope is great. So there is my background.

I've thought long and hard about this. As I alluded to last night, Flags is a decent film. It certainly honors soldiers, and even honors them in ways other war movies forget (or ignore). But its explorations circle larger themes, and when it drives some of them home...I am simply reminded of films that drove those specific themes home better. The structure is intentional, but not purposeful. It did not build to a realization. It followed events on the War Bond tour and back on Iwo, bringing the audience along. but it just never coalesced into something more.

I wanted it to do that. The material is there. It would not require a thematic stretch. But I believe Eastwood was content with the message, and letting us choose our beliefs on the surrounding themes. For certain, he is a crasftman, so there was a point to his structure and decisions. I believe they rob the story of some of the power.

The film focuses on the three survivors...the book focused on all six, the living and the dead. Where they came from, who they were, and why they fought. Removing the dead soldiers (beyond some vignettes) places the focus solely on the War Bond tour, and Iwo Jima is surprisingly bloodless and forgotten. There is little sense of what a true meatgrinder it REALLY was. Of how brutal the fighting was. You see a little of the 5 days the survivors were there...but not the next five weeks of toil. I think that balance would have amplified the themes.

But I did appreciate the exploration of the PR/media blitz. It does seem the film wants it both ways - look at the sleazy (and it gives them plenty of opportunities to be sleazy) government folks trying to make a buck; but it gives them a good reason to do so (though it only gives on character two minutes to make that point...though the point is tragically sound, honest, and painfully the truth). The soldiers Ira, Rene, and John are brought home to serve their country in a manner different than their peers. Their friends face bullets, and the War Bondsmen face isolation, guilt, and hypocrisy. But they serve as best they can. The film never lets us see the fruits of their labor on the Tour.

The theme I wish had been pursued a bit more aggressively: the public side of the equation. The civilian need to make these men something they did not want to be. Why was the burden placed on them? They had enough already. That would have been a very, very bold observation...how our society often makes soldiers the "sin eaters". That element is set up, touched upon very briefly, and then set aside.

I don't want more Iwo because I want a war movie. I simply think it would balance the themes of the tour more strongly. The violence present at Iwo is seen through the filter of modern war movies...which isn't fair, but there it is. It almost felt as if Eastwood felt obligated having it there.

The craft was outstanding as usual. I expect no less from Eastwood, and he delivers. He is skilled and workmanlike, and it serves the film. The music was exceptional at times.

But the themes touched upon mean a lot to me. I would prefer them to be ground down or evaluated in new ways. There is immense power in the story. I feel Haggis and Eastwood left a lot of it on the page.

8/10,
Chuck
 

Chuck Mayer

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A few things Eastwood gets totally right:
1) The scene where the decision to raise the second flag is brilliant. Shit rolls downhill, and all soldiers are the same


2) What haunts Doc, hearing "Corpsman" everywhere.

3) The end credits are the most moving part of the film - we are allowed to see the real men, the real pictures.

4) The "worthiness" of the picture. Whether it was fake or real is pursued by the media (briefly, thank goodness), questioned by the men, and ignored by the government. But the picture did (and does) represent everything mythical and powerful about the United States, and then men and women who serve it. Whatever stories get invented around the image don't do the truth of it justice. All the men in the image WERE heroes. It does represent victory. Eastwood avoided addressing that one way or the other, and let the mundane moment, and the power it represented share the stage. Circumstances be damned, blinders off...and the picture is still everything we believed it was. Just not in the way we expected.
 

Robert Crawford

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This thread is now the Official Review Thread for "Flags of Our Fathers". Please post all HTF member reviews in this thread.

Any other comments, links to other reviews, or discussion items will be deleted from this thread without warning!

If you need to discuss those type of issues then I have designated an Official Discussion Thread.



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Tino

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Flags Of Our Fathers is a good film and I agree with much of what Chuck so eloquently said. I too have read the book and the film pretty much skims the surface. It retains the basic elemnts of the book, but unfortunately leaves out much that in my opinion, would have made the film much more powerful. I have said in the past that I hope that Eastwood doesn't shy away from the horrors perpetrated on that Island by the Japanese to the Americans, but in retrospect, I realize that really isn't the story he wanted to tell.

As it is, it is a very competent, extremely well made film, but it lacks the emotional punch that I was looking for. It is a bit disjointed and it's narrative flow is inconsistent. The performances are fine but none really stand out as exceptional. Adam Beach playing flag raiser Ira Hayes has the showiest role, but his performance somehow didn't reach the level that I believe was needed.

The battle scenes are impressive and relay the craziness of war but they too
seemed to lack the punch needed. Don't go in expecting SPR. There's a bit of violence but virtually nothing that was explained in great detail in the book.

The domestic scenes show well what these "heroes" went thru and it was interesting to see how these men were basically forced into serving their country a second time during the bond tour.

In the end, I liked it, but was hoping for more of an emotional experience. I wanted to really feel what it was like to be on that island, which would have made what the men go thru during and after much more moving than the film actually was. You get some of that for sure, but I think we as an audience deserved more.

 

Sam Favate

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Don't have time for a long review right now, but I will say that I caught the movie last night and thought it was very good. Thumbs up from me. Great filmmaking.
 

Patrick Sun

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I haven't read the book, so my take is totally on what Eastwood decided to focus on for this adaption of "Flags of our Fathers".

I thought Eastwood implied much of the daunting mission of overtaking Iwo Jima by the US troops through the combat footage interspersed throughout the film. It's more than enough to show that it was a horrific and treacherous mission, but the price was worth it in military terms and objectives (to end the war sooner and save more lives in the long run). I don't think I needed more warfare footage to get that people defending their land will act atrociously against those who invade their land. Most viewers will get that aspect without needing more gore and bloodshed shown to them.

The film counterbalances the Iwo Jima side by focusing on the stateside aspect of the war bond drive, with the government using the 3 surviving members of the 6 men shown photographed in that famous photo of the US troops propping up the US flag on Iwo Jima. I think that Eastwood wanted to use this aspect to draw parallels to what's going on today in terms of the government shaping public perception of the war, while also using its heroes to personalize the triumphs of the war effort and downplaying the casualties of war. For the soldiers used for the war bond drive campaign, it devolves into the predictable "what have you done for me lately" fare after the war becomes yesterday news. But it's because of films like this one that illuminates the sacrifice of soldiers, and honors their service to country, even if the government is more than just a little bit opportunistic in touting heroes as a rallying point for their war financing needs. The everyman aspect represented by the 3 surviving soldiers, and the families of the fallen is what was stressed by Eastwood and company, and it's because it could have been anyone in that photo, but the universal message is about the machinery of war and its lasting efforts on the fallen, and those who have returned, but feel, in some ways, like they have never left that island nor their brothers-in-arms.

I give it 3.5 stars, or a grade of B+.
 

Sam Favate

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I haven't read the book on which the movie is based, but I liked what I saw in the movie. I liked that it was a different kind of movie than Saving Private Ryan. While the scene of the US troops arriving on Iwo Jima bore some similarity to Ryan's famous opening, the movies vary in their intensity. Where Ryan tells the story of the D-Day invasion, Flags uses the Iwo Jima battle to tell the story of the soldiers involved. I liked how Eastwood's movie cut back and forth from the bond tour to the battle (and to the present, although there was considerably less clarity there).

Strong performances from the cast, and the picture looked great. While I doubt this is the Oscar home-run that many thought it would be, it should be remembered at Oscar time.
 

Rob Foss

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Flags Of Our Fathers

I thought this was a remarkable film and in many ways quite unlike any other war movie. I'm baffled at the criticisms from some viewers at the allegedly hard to follow storytelling on offer. I've not read the book on which the film is based but even so I didn't have any problems whatsoever following the story and Joel Cox's editing so comfortably juxtaposes the three story strands that the 2 hr 12 min runtime fairly flies by. One of the criticisms - that the framing story is flawed because we don't know the identity of the shadowy interviewer - is ridiculous given that several times in the first half of the movie several interviewees talk about how 'your father did this' and 'your father did that.' I mean, gee, how much clearer could his identity be? And although it jumps around I didn't find Flags half as scrambled in its storytelling as Eastwood's earlier Bird was, so again I'm just a bit mystified by these complaints about the film.

As for the performances I thought they were uniformly excellent but like everything else in the film they are intentionally understated. Nobody's showboating for an Oscar here. That isn't going to satisfy a sector of the audience expecting splashy, showy performances or perhaps Oscar voters. But then the whole point of the story is that the three flag-raisers weren't any different than all the other thousands of young men who fought on Iwo Jima - they were just ordinary kids - and the cast honour that belief with naturalistic low-key performances.

The production values of Flags obviously speak for themselves and the battle scenes are as distressing and harrowing to sit through as one might expect. I really liked the way the battle scenes differentiated themselves from the likes of Saving Private Ryan with their astounding long shots of the battle in progress. One shot in particular showing a row of Marines racing toward and over a ridge and then on towards Mount Suribachi, itself under terrifying artillery, mortar and machine gun fire, literally made my jaw drop. Equally stunning were the pov Corsair flybys of the fleet under sail and the planes attacking Suribachi.

But of most interest to me was the mix of war scenes and the PR aspects of a Govt needing to sell war to the public and the weight that places on those lucky or unlucky enough to be chosen to perform that task. For me there was one extraordinary moment where the trio are ascending a papier mache Suribachi for the second time and we see three or four quick flashbacks from Bradley and Hayes' pov of their comrades dying on Iwo and then they're at the top having planted the flag, the crowd in the stadium roaring their approval, yet Bradley and Hayes can barely stand up, assaulted as they are by these horrible, awful memories of death. It's an incredible moment. Emmanuel Levy referred to the stateside scenes as having a kind of chilly, mystery quality to them. He meant it as a compliment and I would agree with that. I found those sequences both absorbing and unsettling to watch. I've seen a fair few war movies in my time but a lot of Flags struck me as fresh and new and unusual in the perspective it offers.

Another moment which stood out and almost had me in tears was just a simple shot of Ira trudging away down a road after telling Mr Block that his son was indeed one of the flag-raisers. Simple, but loaded with poignancy and emotion. I really only have two small nitpicks as far as Flags is concerned. I felt there was a bit too much narration near the end when we learnt about the post-war future of the flag-raisers and the final speech is basically redundant because the film makes those points so well that if you haven't understood it by then no amount of narration is going to help you. But these are small flaws and may well disappear altogether on repeat viewings.

One other point - and again going to back to criticisms I'd read before seeing Flags - this business about an overextended ending - if anything i was kind of surprised how quickly things did come to a head. I was bracing myself for long drawn out hospital scenes between father and son but it didn't seem to me to be anything like that and the final shot of the boys swimming with Eastwood's affecting score was beautiful and to the point. This is easily the best film I've seen so far this year and I suspect that once people put their silly preconceptions aside and take the movie for what it actually is instead of what they want it to be (which seems to be SPR In The Pacific), then its reputation as one of Eastwood's best movies is only going to grow with the years.

Final grade, an easy 'A.'
 

Chris Atkins

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Near great film. I wanted to see more of the battle because I thought the War Bond movie needed more juxtaposition of the horrors of Iwo Jima. I also wanted to see more of the battle because Eastwood did an amazing job with what he did show.

9.5/10
 

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