Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Premise: After the photograph of Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi is circulated in the American media, soldiers Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), John Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) become celebrities but they find their new identities as heroes at odds with their wartime experience.
What Works: Flags of Our Fathers has a very unique theme: that the power of an iconic image, such as the erection of the American flag on Iwo Jima, can win or lose wars. The parts of the film that are dedicated to this theme, such as the cynical politicization of the image by the government and the emotional meetings between the soldiers and the parents of their deceased comrades, are very moving and piece together very well. Eastwood dealt with similar disparities between legend and truth in Unforgiven, and this is the chief strength of Flags of Our Fathers.
What Doesn’t: The story contains three different narratives including the Battle of Iwo Jima, the US bond drive after the battle, and present day research of these events by one of the soldier’s sons. It is one narrative too many and the film’s cross cutting between the stories is erratic and often arbitrary. Fans of the war genre, particularly World War II films, will find Flags of Our Fathers to be recycled and redundant. The film borrows a lot from Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, but it does not accomplish its ends as well as those projects. The film muddies its theme with unnecessary subplots and clichés of the genre.
Bottom Line: Flags of Our Fathers is burdened by a narrative that is unfocused and a preponderance of war film clichés. Despite using a theme that worked so well for Eastwood in Unforgiven, the film meanders along and reaches no discernible conclusions.
Episode: #117 (November 12, 2006)