Monday, January 08, 2007


FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is a film that spends a long time making a simple but important point: winning a war takes money, and raising money from the public takes a PR offensive and a PR offensive needs a good story of heroism and victory against all odds, the truth be damned. In this particular case, the war is against the Japanese and the PR men are three US marines who apparently helped hoist the US flag on a Japanese island called Iwo Jima.

There are many aspects of the film that deserve our time and our admiration. Director Clint Eastwood has created an intelligent film that looks with pained realism at the way in which war is carried out and the cost for all concerned. Unlike Spielberg, while he has a great deal of respect for the serving military and creates an authentic 1940s feel to the movie, Eastwood never slips into cheap sentimentality. Even more admirable is the fact that he does not descend into cheap cynicism either. When Ryan Philippe’s young Marine tells a grieving mother than her son is the soldier furthest to the right in the infamous picture, he knows it’s an out-an-out lie. But what would you do in the same circumstances? Rob a mother of her only comfort? After all, her son was there at the battle. This scene is typical of a film that does not rush to judge but presents each decision in its full moral complexity.

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is also to be admired for its superb ensemble cast, its convincing production design and its cinematography. The battle scenes in particular are deeply affecting: cast in grey-scale that has been almost entirely drained of colour. The framing of each shot is considered and effective – not least the fear-inducing shots from the point-of-view of the anonymous Japanese sharp-shooter hidden in pill-boxes above the landing beach.

My criticism of the film lies in its lack of emotional pull. To that end, its restraint and emotional discipline in comparison to, say, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, is also its downfall. The point that the film makes is important and true and needs to be told – especially to a Hollywood studio audience used to the schmaltz of your typical war movie. However, I doubt that such a simple message needed such a long run-time. Nonetheless, Eastwood has created an important film that deserves all the critical acclaim it has received.

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is on release in the US, Belgium, France, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Philippines, Greece, Italy, Israel, Finland, the Netherlands, Singapore, Denmark, Finland, Venezuala, Turkey, the UK, Iceland, Norway, and Portugal. It opens in Spain on January 3rd, in Hong Kong on January 11th and in Germany on the 18th. It opens in Brazil and Estonia on February 2nd and in Russia on February 15th 2007.

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