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Flags of Our Fathers

Review Written by: Chris Burns
Film: B
What the MPAA Rating should be: R (for language and violence)

Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis
Based on the book by: James Bradley and Ron Powers
Produced by: Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz and Steven Spielberg
Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, Paul Walker, Jamie Bell
Studio: DreamWorks Pictures

Clint Eastwood is famous for many things in the film industry. He's a man who's created some truly outstanding characters, which have become edged into our minds and with genuine, iconic cinematic value. Clint Eastwood has proved over the many decades he's had in the film industry that he can act and direct with skill. There's a certain relaxed ease when you watch a performance from Clint because he manages to capture a raw performance with the needed hidden emotion. Clint's latest outings in direction from the 21st century have been films that will be remembered for their strong emotional complexity, yet does Flags of Our Fathers match the bleak excellence and emotional core of say, Mystic River? Sadly the answer is no, it does not match the virtuosity of the masterpiece Unforgiven, the boxing opera Million Dollar Baby or the cold heart of Mystic River.

The story of Flags of Our Fathers is one that revolves around an infamous photo of a group of US marines putting up an American flag on the island of Iwo Jima. It caused a media frenzy and sparked a general mass hysteria. The story is told through a series of flashbacks and then converting back to the modern world of one of the solider son's trying to find out the real truth of the story. This is a story that I certainly miss-interpreted at first, thinking it would be a "God bless America" film that basically said "I want to go gold at the Oscars". Yet the film is quite the opposite, since it does not glorify the war and nor does it take sides. It's a film that actually shows how hypocritical the media is, how they twist a story and glamorise the supposed heroics of war. The film asks the viewer the question "is there really any hope out of the image when you know what really happened?" When I first heard that Flags of Our Fathers was the next project that Clint Eastwood was working on I felt as though it seemed like another Saving Private Ryan and a film that could have so easily have fallen into the trap of becoming patriotic propaganda. You'll notice that the film has been made with DreamWorks Pictures, a film studio run by Stephen Spielberg and so the film was produced by Spielberg too (I'm not quite sure to what extent). I personally feel this was done to cover up the glaring similarities to Saving Private Ryan. You'll even recognise the brilliant Barry Pepper from Saving Private Ryan as one of the army sergeants who gives a performance worthy of some praise. Whereas in Saving Private Ryan you get some of the most realistic scenes in cinema, where you feel like you're dodging the bullets, Flags of Our Fathers does not offer the same crucial realism.

There are many flaws throughout Flags of Our Fathers that are noticeable, yet slyly covered by the emotional level of the film. The film's first half is where the most problems occur, but the second half picks up the film and helps you forget many of the film's problems. You can't help but feel the film is extremely predictable though and with a screenplay from Paul Haggis you can be certain some hate will be flying because he has been accused of being over-sentimental and preachy at times. The film's narrative structure is formidable and cluttered, lacking any real gracefulness. The editing feels abrupt in the first half and not as smooth as it could have been. There are also some plot-holes and the film is missing the needed subtext. It's a film where you get everything severed on a plate for you and you have little underlying message to ponder afterwards. The characters are mainly clichéd and many of the war scenes feel occupied by watching the same characters doing "what they do best". It also feels slightly drawn-out at times, but manages to still draw you into the story.

My favourite aspect of Flags of Our Fathers was the transitions between the war-zone and the homeland. The use of grey-scale colours, the overcast weather and primarily the shadows in the war-zone did help capture a toning between the usual colours you get for the scenes on American soil. The set pieces and props are exciting, as well as being detailed in their structure. There's a truly stunning shot where you see one of the main soldiers standing in the doorway of an enemy bunker, with a shadow covering him while the light pours through the gaps. This is not the only use of metaphorical imagery, there is another scene involving raspberry source a.k.a. representing blood bring poured on top of a dessert moulded into the shape of the image the film revolves around.

There's a wide variety of actors starring in the film and all of them manage to perform to a reasonable extent. There is one man that steals the show and gives a remarkable performance; this man is Adam Beach who is performing as Ira Hayes and pulls off his performance with remarkable power. He is one of the few characters you'll actually care for and one of the few that has a built of background to his role. The worst actor in the film is Paul Walker, who almost despicably gets his name put up alongside a photo of real war-hero in the credit sequence. I found it almost sickening because he's an actor I truly cannot stand.

Flags of Our Fathers is soon to be followed by Letters from Iwo Jima which tells the story of the battle from the Japanese perspective, it has been filmed back-to-back with Flags of Our Fathers and looks like it could be easily better than its predecessor. It's a film with an emotional edge, yet it would have come off stronger if it was rawer. Not Clint's usual style, but still a film I'd recommend for a decent cinema experience.

The American soldiers back from Iwo Jima.
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