Flags Of Our Fathers

Flags Of Our Fathers


Reviewed by: Chris

Every mother, every family that waves off a son or daughter to fight a war in distant lands, hopes or prays they will return safely. We trust that they go to fight the good fight. And, if they should die, we might find some small comfort in the knowledge that our loved one died bravely, died a hero, or was at least loved and valued by comrades in the field. One of the most memorable images in Flags of our Fathers is that of a soldier departing on a train - an image that may resound with comfort to many. This World War II film, released at a time when U.S. troops abroad are sorely stretched, assuages both hawks and anti-war lobbyists in its praise of the common soldier. Sometimes the symbol for all this is 'freedom'; sometimes it is just summarised in the nation's flag, a rallying point, a symbol of a common sentiment.

Flags of our Fathers is a glimpse of history around 23 February 1945. American troops capture Iwo Jima (a strategically important Japanese island) and several of them are photographed raising the American flag there. This happens in the first few days and symbolises victory - even though the battle rages on for more than a month afterwards, costing thousands of lives. Support for the war back home is waning and the coffers are desperately short. The picture became a focus for national sentiment and the opening of people's purses. The soldiers (whose backs are turned to the camera) are mostly dead. The publicity machine replaces them with other soldiers from the battlefield to take the credit and give speeches, raising the necessary bonds to see the war through.

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One of the soldiers is Native American Indian Ira Hayes (who was immortalised in the famous song sung by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and others). He is less tolerant of what he sees as hypocrisy - and of the fact that some bars still won't serve him 'cos he's Indian'.

Flags of our Fathers cuts back and forth between the bloody battle scenes and the publicity that was to follow at home, battlefield explosions mimicked by exploding fireworks at fundraising rallies. But what seems like a clever idea is barely enough to sustain over two hours of film. This editing, together with a frequent voice-over, divests the movie of much of its impact. Shot in moody, almost monochromatic bleached-out colours, and based on a book by the son of one of the flag raisers, Eastwood's film is a triumph of history-telling over entertainment or moral agonising. It has visceral action, but without exactly being an exciting film to watch.

The viewer constantly expects a moral depth that is sidestepped. Eastwood, as in Million Dollar Baby, is merely an observer, and we, like the characters, are given no opportunity to decide issues for ourselves - everything simply 'is what it is'.

Whatever the other merits of Flags of Our Fathers, this is a moral cop-out. The flag is a symbol of common national sentiment. Subsidiary to that is whether the image is depicted honestly or not, whether the sentiment is portrayed for justifiable ends or not, and whether the actions associated with it are heroic or not. The film bypasses such questions - the result is that these things are simply decided by the powers that be. Like the toppling of Saddam's statue many years later, national sentiment is aroused by such images. It can be manipulated for whatever end and, even if the ends are justifiable, this film does not encourage an intellectually penetrating approach. Ira Hayes is icing on the cake of political correctness, and the frequent pauses for effect (rapidly becoming one of Eastwood's rather theatrical trademarks) are pauses for Oscar-bait rather than deep reflection.

Flags of the Fathers is a well-made historical piece that could have more impact for elderly American parents than it does for me, since I think it misleadingly looks much more than the sum of its parts. As a piece of flag-waving, revenues almost doubled its production cost in its first week. A memorial film made by an ageing man, it gazes off into the distance, as if in thoughtful and meditative trance, when in fact its eyes are mostly just glazing over.

Reviewed on: 25 Dec 2006
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Flags Of Our Fathers packshot
America, struggling to finance its war against Japan, needs heroes so badly that it is willing to sacrifice the truth.
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Read more Flags Of Our Fathers reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****1/2
Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: William Broyles Jr., Paul Haggis, based on the books by James Bradley and Ron Powers

Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, Thomas McCarthy, John Benjamin Hickey, John Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker, Robert Patrick, Neal McDonough, Melanie Lynskey

Year: 2006

Runtime: 132 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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