The Good

A great war film from DreamWorks that really hits at the heart of what it means to serve your country.

The Bad

Paltry extras.

During World War II when 70,000 marines descended on Iwo Jima, America was in a very precarious position. We were fighting a war against a very strong enemy in the Japanese, and our country was up against a wall financially. There were many casualties, the outlook wasn't looking good, and the military needed a lot more money if they were going pull off a victory. After taking Iwo Jima, the Japanese were dealt a crippling blow and America got an amazing jolt in the form of four soldiers raising a flag on Mount Suribachi, which was the highest point of Iwo Jima.

In war things get confusing and the flag that was raised certainly had much of that surrounding it. It turns out that a politician wanted that flag, but one of the commanders wanted it as well. So the flag was switched out, another picture was taken, and due to the unfavorable film conditions, only one picture made it's way to the world. The fact that no faces were visible also added to the confusion. In trying to place who was in the picture, the military got John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach). There's debates over who was in what picture and the fact that certain soldiers that should be represented weren't, made the tour the three men went on to raise money for the war effort that much more confusing.

As Flags of Our Fathers tries to sort this out, what eventually comes across is the idea that who is in the picture isn't what was important. It is the idea of what that the picture represents (people sacrificing for other people, working together and caring about one another, fighting for something bigger and more important than yourself, etc.) that is the most important. We also get to see how three soldier's lives were effected by having the status of hero thrust upon them. All in all, Flags of Our Fathers is a very intricately told tale about what it means to serve your country, your fellow man and yourself.

Features

No Extras came with this DVD. In fact, I think this might be the first disc I have been given to review by a major studio that didn't include a Chapter Menu.

Video

Widescreen Version enhanced for 16:9 TVs. I probably should have watched this film on a bigger TV, but even on my 9" set this film looked really crisp. In fact, Clint Eastwood was so smart to cast actors that are known but who can also play every men. I immediately gave up all of my previous associations with Ryan Phillippe and Jesse Bradford, and just watched them get swallowed up into the canvas of this film. I loved how the colors changed when war scenes were juxtaposed with scenes in America. The DVD transfer was both crisp and not over done. As a result, this movie played very nicely as a home viewing experience.

Audio

Dolby Digital: English 5.1 Surround/English 2.0 Surround/French 5.1 Surround. Subtitled in English and Spanish. There were a few points where I had to use the subtitles, but that was only during the war scenes. Director Clint Eastwood seems to have shot them in such a way so that they are very hard to follow. He also withholds certain information and then builds it up throughout the film so that it eventually plays into the story. The audio was really good even though I did have to turn up the sound on my set quite high.

Package

The iconic image of the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima against an ominous blue sky is what is on display here. It's a simple image, it gets to the point, and it's something great to have as a reference when you are watching this film. The back cover has some images from the movie (most of them focusing on the three stars), there's a description of what Flags of Our Fathers is about, a cast list and some technical specs. While I can understand that Warner Bros. wants to get this movie out to capitalize on the Oscar Season, I really wished they would have included a lot more extras. Sadly, we know a bigger release of this film is just around the corner.

Final Word

Having seen Letters From Iwo Jima and then Flags of Our Fathers second, I think that the latter film works better. While I loved the look and the battle scenes in Letters From Iwo Jima, I think Flags of Our Fathers is a much richer story. It really gets past all the bureaucracy of war and all the political sides, and it shows us how we look at soldiers and how the world seems to need heroes. We need things that bolster our opinions of something, irrespective of the fact if that is what those things mean. The world today is also one where images aren't as beyond reproach as they once were. We could get an image of the insurgents in Iraq surrendering, but in 24 hours with all the technology and news services at our disposal, somebody somewhere would find a way to counterpoint that story positively or negatively.

What makes Flags of Our Fathers work so well is that as audience members we are challenged. There are essentially four soldiers to follow, and when you add the two flags being raised, who was where when, and every other account in the meticulously crafted screenplay by William Broyles, Jr. and Paul Haggis, it soon becomes clear that the best way to take this film is through a route of simplicity.

Flags of Our Fathers was released October 18, 2006.