| The Red Right Hand
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS
1944, morale was low, cash-flow even lower and any hope of winning the Second World War was fading but one photograph turned things around for the Americans. We (the British) had the Blitz and the Battle of Britain to endure but the yanks were a little disconnected, on their island continent, 5000 miles from Nazi Germany and 7000 from Japan. Desperate to pull out of the war and scraping the barrel for currency, the front-page picture of the flag raising on the small Japanese island of Iwo Jima, changed public opinion. All the trailers led us to believe this would be not only an exceptional WWII epic but a cinematic comparison to the US' current struggle. Every film pumped out about the Gulf war seems to be a shell of Vietnam flicks, surely Flags Of Our Fathers will offer us something we can get into? Unfortunately not, let down by disjointed editing, an array of unnecessarily slow scenes and physically indistinguishable characters. The Clint Eastwood/Paul Haggis combo is at it again (after the award-winning Million Dollar Baby) with wonderfully moving elements incorporated into heartfelt scenes of human trauma but Haggis' recent efforts (The Last Kiss) have proven that his writing is extremely flawed and singularly tracked, desperately pulling on the audience's heart strings. One of the elements that I applaud is the basis for this project. Eastwood is trying to illustrate the power of the media and how truths change depending on points of view. He has taken one particular battle -that of Iwo Jima- and using a two-part story, shown both sides. This is the first, the second will follow in a few months (estimated UK release is pencilled in for February 2007), Letters From Iwo Jima, starring Ken Wantanabe, which shows the Japanese fight for the island. For those that don't know, the US joined WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. For some reason this meant that the Americans saw victory not only in Germany but by exacting revenge on Japan.
On one island, in particular, US marines landed and stormed the beaches for over thirty days. Not unlike the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan, the only soldiers involved were Americans - only this time around, this was true. On the fifth day a dormant volcano was taken and a flag raised atop. As six marines erected a weighty flagpole one photographer snapped a quick picture. When it got back to the US the country saw hope and a possibility of not only ending the war but winning it. By the time the notification for the six men to be brought home went out, half of them were dead. The three soldiers that remained, John Bradley [Phillippe], Rene Gagnon [Bradford] and Ira Hayes [Adam Beach] were hailed heroes; this is the story of their struggle with fame, the government pushing them to sell war bonds, the memories of fallen comrades and the war that raged on without them. The problem with the movie is simple; using fresh-faced actors is a commendable approach, as most of the recruits would have been unknowns. The random appearance of Paul Walker was slightly odd, but stranger cameos have popped up and anything goes in war films. Casting Barry Pepper was also a little unwise. The first time I saw Pepper was in Saving Private Ryan as the Texan sniper, Pvt. Daniel Jackson. The second he popped his head into view I simply frowned and thought, "Is he going to start his little ' Blessed Be The Lord ' speech and look for a bell tower?" In all honesty, his performance is fantastic, so he deserves to be in the flick as much as any man.
The battle scenes are dark, gritty and completely believable but (not meaning to sound like a broken record) we have seen the grey-tinted shaky-cam beach raid in Saving Private Ryan, it's nothing new. I understand that this is the same for a large portion of World War II but I'm not discrediting the act, simply the depiction of said acts. To be frank, as great as that D-Day scene is, it's hideously inaccurate. The day that the Americans landed on Utah and Omaha beaches they were greeted with bullets, shells, a clear blue sky and blazing sun. The visuals are spectacular and impressive but with the emotional aspect of the story so completely lacking it's difficult to really care. You're not given time with the men to learn their lives, so they become nothing more than a hoard of young faces sent into the fray. The acting is good enough but the rapid cuts back and forth through time is so confusing that the whole thing becomes a little irritating; something that could have been easily remedied with a small "Frontline: Day 23" in the bottom corner or something similar. When we cut forward to the present you can barely piece together who the old men are supposed to be. Also, to try and be clever, it's never directly said that Bradley's son is writing a book about his father. The first scene is with an elderly gentleman on a leather couch, for the longest time I simply assumed the old guy with the moustache was one of the marines in the picture and he just needed to talk to a psychiatrist. Things are left loosely hanging, while focus is overly drawn to other things; with a grand running time of 132 minutes, you'd think they would have cut back on Ira Hayes' story and the present - especially, Bradley's son actually writing the book. This film is based on the book by Bradley and is a very interesting depiction of how propaganda can fuel a nation and bring hope to those fighting for it. Unlike many other classic WWII epics, this movie tries to add a big heart and lacks the overall punch that a blockbuster director can deliver. Eastwood is an extremely impressive actor turned director; itís just a shame that this particular film has let him down so badly. It's a simple case of a film that's very enjoyable and serves its purpose but could have been so much more.
22nd November 2006
The Scene To Look Out For:
The horrors of the beach scene were a little too close to Saving Private Ryan for anyone to be able to properly relate to them - but I suppose that's what you get when you have Steven Speilberg as a producer. Everyone is scattered up and down the beach, watching their colleagues fall to enemy fire, their tank regiments being obliterated by mounted guns but everything seems somewhat temperate. Any time anyone is shot or killed the camera quickly pans away -possibly in an attempt to add to the shock of it all- so the realism falls short somewhat. Having said that, gore doesn't always sell a war movie so a little temperance is a welcome thing.
It's difficult to pick between any of them. There were those on the beach that fought and died but they're all too forgettable, which only leaves the three survivors and they just play out stereotypical roles: the leader, the one with the guilty conscience and the showboat. I'll simply say that my favourite character was Eastwood for trying to undertake such a project. I haven't seen Letters From Iwo Jima but I'm sure when put together, they make a fine piece of work.
"If we admit we made a mistake, thatís all theyíll talk about; and that will be that"
In A Few Words:
"Falls short of greatness but still a worthy medal on Eastwood's chest"