Clint Eastwood has been on an extremely hot streak. He delivered a good film with Mystic River, a little overrated in my opinion, but still a strong and solid film. He then took the cake with Million Dollar Baby. Flags Of Our Fathers is a great story about courage and honor, but honestly so is every war story. The three central characters are Doc (Ryan Phillipe), Rene (Jesse Bradford), and Ira (Adam Beach). The film is told as a flashback through a series of interviews as we learn that the son of Doc is doing some research about his father. We jump back and forth to present day, back to the war, and to the characters after the war as they returned home as "heroes". William Broyles, Jr. and Paul Haggis wrote the screenplay and did a great job of structuring it. The characters start out together, they go on this journey together, but they soon start to separate. They are brought home because it is believed that they put up the flag at Iwo Jima, but in reality it was the second flag put up, the replacement flag. So, now they are brought home as heroes and we see how they are treated and used. One aspect of the film that made it unique was it's commentary on America's tolerance to Native Americans. Native Americans played a huge role in WWII, and even though our protagonists were heroes Ira was still treated like trash. He is constantly called "chief" or "redskin" and in one scene he is thrown out of a bar because they don't serve Indians. It's a sad sight to see how Americans treated the Native Americans who fought and died for freedom. Adam Beach gives a strong performance, it's a truly emotional film. The film is also visually striking.
You can't help but wonder how the film would have looked without Steven Spielberg being the Executive Producer on the project. There are some striking similarities, visually speaking, to Saving Private Ryan. Eastwood also went with a very muted and gray tinted look. The film is almost black and white, and it does make it feel historical. Tom Stern's cinematography is absolutely breathtaking and is bound for an Oscar nomination. The way light is used in some scenes adds so much depth it's unbelievable and has to be seen. All the great stuff aside there is an aspect of the film that makes it less than spectacular. Clint Eastwood provides another simple score for the film, and while it works for some of his movies it usually doesn't. I was not fond of the score for Mystic River, but I loved Million Dollar Baby's score. This film needed a different sound, and Eastwood's simple keys on the piano only works well near the end of the film. While the action sequences have no music I do think that a more experienced composer could have done wonders for the film.
The war genre has had so many entries over the history of film that I am starting to wonder is there anything left to explore? I mean, every aspect of war has been expressed through film and war movies now are starting to become repetitive. This film is about heroism and that the real heroes of Iwo Jima weren't the ones in the photograph but the ones who died out on that island. Yes, we've heard that before many times, but Eastwood gives us different perspectives on it. I guess it's hard to really analyze Flags Of Our Fathers since Letters From Iwo Jima has yet to come out. For those who did not know, Clint Eastwood made two films at once and Flags Of Our Fathers is the first of two companion pieces. Letters From Iwo Jima is the companion piece and is the same story of Iwo Jima told from the Japanese perspective, spoken in Japanese and all.
There is no standout character here. This is another example of a great ensemble cast. The acting is great all around even though I question Eastwood's decision to put Paul Walker in this movie. All the actors give solid performances, but it's Adam Beach's performance as Ira Hayes that highlights the film. He is also the only character that makes the film something original.
Clint Eastwood gives an emotional look at the true definition of heroes during the war. The film is visually amazing and the acting is excellent, but the film overall feels like we've seen it before. Hopefully Letters From Iwo Jima will add more depth to this project.
Flags of Our Fathers is out October 18, 2006.