Flags of Our Fathers is the first true disappointment of 2006. Director Clint Eastwood had made two films, back-to-back, of the highest caliber in the past two years. With Flags, he stumbles, recovers, and stumbles again until he is bruised and beaten.
The story is of a simple picture taken of a flag raising at Iwo Jima that nearly changed the outlook of the war. But, there is more-or less-to that story. The real story is of the men who fought and died for one another on the sulfur-ridden island, and the politics that eclipsed and distorted their actions.
Not to be mistaken with Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line, Flags is not really a war film. There are battle sequences, but the real concentration is on the government and how they took advantage of a simple picture, and more importantly, the soldiers. Make no mistake, this film has nothing nice to say about anything; and maybe that’s the point. But, in the same vein-but no more importantly-it’s somewhat difficult to find anything nice to say about this film.
The acting, while often superb, supports nothing. The characters are poorly drawn and are never truly developed.
Likewise, Eastwood’s insistence on approaching the film from a bloated, novelistic approach that renders the audience lost in streams of unregistered emotions for the last third of the film, doesn’t help either. The film shifts and jumps from one period to the next without any restraint. At times, it feels like a two-hour long trailer.
Much of that, in part, is probably the fault of the writing. Eastwood is notorious for not requiring many ‘script revisions’ when he chooses a project, and in this case, that decision was a fatal one.
With all that said, there are some truly powerful sequences and images in the film. Eastwood has become a pro at framing, and it shows. The statements have a heavy quality to them as well. Unfortunately, with the multiple narrations being pounded into you on an irregular basis along with a heavy-handed theme, you don’t have time to make up your own mind; often it’s being fed to you.
It would probably be easier to accept the film for what it is (a stern critique of the definitions forced on simple men of war) if it wasn’t for the fact that this is an Eastwood film. Some may not consider him a master, but others do; I’m one of them. And that’s why Flags is such a shame.
Danny Gordon may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.