Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
"What we see and do in war, the cruelty, is unbelievable. But somehow we gotta make sense of it. To do that, we need an easy to understand truth and damn few words. And if you can get a picture... Now the right picture can win or lose a war."- Joe Rosenthal
Stars: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Benjamin Hickey, John Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker
Other Stars: Robert Patrick, Benjamin Walker, Joseph Cross, Tom McCarthy, George Grizzard, Ned Eisenberg, David Rasche
Director: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: R for scenes of graphic war violence and carnage, language
Run Time: 02h:11m:41s
Release Date: 2007-02-06
DVD ReviewJames Bradley's book Flags of Our Fathers is a deeply moving account of the events and the men behind the legendary photograph of the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi during the World War II battle of Iwo Jima. One of the bloodiest battles of the war, it was important in and of itself for reasons of morale, as this volcanic island was sacred Japanese soil. The assaulting Marines expected a hard battle and a dug-in foe, but nothing prepared them for the network of tunnels and deadly positions that greeted them. Yet from the chaos and violence of the battle came one of the most enduring images of all time, a representation of struggle and heroism. Three of the six flag raisers survived the battle, and they came home to a hero's welcome they felt they didn't deserve, as well as overt government manipulation to raise funds for the war effort.
Turning this story of two vastly different parts into a cohesive film seems improbable, but by using the writing of the book itself as a device, screenwriters William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) succeed by using the memories of one of the participants, Navy Corpsman John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe as a young man, George Grizzard when he ages) and the recollections of others in a kaleidoscopic presentation that flips seamlessly from Iwo Jima to the bond drive with Marines Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) to the recent past and back again. The fragmentary nature of memory being what it is, moments that pass almost as an aside early on come back with much greater significance later on. The picture's not difficult to follow, however, once you recognize and embrace the technique.
Clint Eastwood is at the helm of this, and its companion picture from the Japanese point of view, Letters from Iwo Jima. Having not yet seen the latter, Flags might on its face seem a little lacking. One can only share the POV of the central characters, and that leaves the Japanese as 'Japs'—faceless, inhuman, and wholly inscrutable in their determination to fight to the death and or commit suicide rather than be taken prisoner. Nonetheless, leaving that perspective to another day was a correct decision, since Flags isn't the story of the battle so much as it is the story of the men in the battle and what happens to them afterwards.
The central and true theme of the picture is the concept of heroism and how it means such very different things to the men who fight in combat and those at home, unable to understand. Men facing death in situations such as on the beaches of Iwo Jima seldom want to talk about it, and Bradley, Gagnon, and Hayes exemplify this notion. Bradley never discusses the war, or the flag-raising with his son James (Tom McCarthy), while Hayes is humiliated by the idea he is being called a hero for having his picture taken, and wants nothing to do with the celebrations of the surviving threesome. Beach is striking as the pained Hayes, a Pima Indian who wants to go back to his unit rather than deal with publicity tours and a succession of fake flag-raisings (not to mention vicious racism). It doesn't help matters that he increasingly looks for refuge in a bottle, easily accessible due to the glitter of their national tour. Gagnon finds more of an appeal to the notion of being seen as a hero, but bitterly learns that after the moment in the sun has passed, no one wants to give him the time of day; the lucrative offers made during his bond tour vanish with the end of the war once he becomes yesterday's news, leaving him destitute.
Eastwood stages the battle sequences brilliantly, with a feeling of being under fire from nowhere that has few parallels in cinema. As the troops begin their assault on the island, an ominous series of gun barrels of various sizes slowly emerge from hiding places in the ground, creating a death trap. Nor does he shy away from the problem of friendly fire when Sgt. Mike Strank (Barry Pepper) is killed by American artillery blasting at their own positions. Between the battle, the repercussions that follow and memories from the distance of decades, a gripping picture is painted that has an emotional impact from beginning to end. Sensitive viewers are warned, however, that the MPAA is not kidding in its description of the R rating for "graphic war violence and carnage." Eastwood pulls no punches in these aspects, and this isn't a video game or sanitized mainstream media presentation of war.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is variable in quality. Although the source print is, as it should be for a new movie, immaculate, the subject matter is such that the transfer is a serious problem. The fog and smoke of the battle features a good deal of digital noise. There are also plenty of slanted lines, such as blinds on train windows, that provoke issues with aliasing. Color is quite good, though the battle sequences are very desaturated, almost to the point of being in black and white, just like Joe Rosenthal's immortal photograph. It's also deliberately grainy, which lends a bit of a sparkly aspect to the picture. Texture and fine detail are rather limited. Those who are HD-capable may want to wait for Dreamworks to get around to releasing on that format.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 audio track (there is also a Dolby Surround one) is quite lively, featuring plenty of detail and directionality. As one might expect, the battle sequences have tons of LFE and impact, but there are also touches such as the placement of gunfire and explosions, not to mention the roar of planes. One detail that has a real impact after a while is the constant raining down of soil on various sides; the suggestion is such that there is clearly no safe place in the midst of the mayhem. It's a solid and clean track that adds a lot to picture's immediacy.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Letters from Iwo Jima, Babel
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Layers Switch: 01h:16m:22s
Extras Review: The presentation is very nearly barebones, with only a nonanamorphic widescreen trailer for the companion film, and another for Babel. Chaptering is a little on the thin side.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsAlthough it didn't do very well at the box office, Eastwood has created one of the most memorable pictures of war and what it does to men, one that can take its place proudly beside other classics of the genre. Recommended.
Mark Zimmer 2007-01-29