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Flags of our Fathers

2007-01-19 18:01

We all know the photograph: six American soldiers raising their flag in February 1945. It was taken on a hilltop the Japanese occupied island of Iwo Jima, a strategic target for America where thousands of Japanese and US soldiers died in many days of bloody battle, both before and after the flag was raised. The photograph represented hope to a nation tired of war, and the men in it, whose faces aren't visible, represented all war heroes. After the photo was published the three surviving flag raisers, Rene Gagnon (Ryan Phillippe), John Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), were whisked back to civilization to help raise funds for the war effort. But the accolades for heroism heaped upon the three men disturbed them. They knew that thousands of real heroes had lost their lives on Iwo Jima, and that the photograph might be worth a thousand words, but that many of those words were not true.


Most war movies include enough light stuff to soften the pain of having to watch people being blown up (or apart) and tortured. Flags of Our Fathers doesn't bother. Most of the movie, , is a long, terrible battle scene in which hundreds of soldiers are blown up, burnt by flamethrowers, killed by friendly fire, or bombed from the sky.

Now comes the awful part: watching people die, over and over again, is excruciating. It's terrible. It's saddening. The problem is it's also excruciatingly, saddeningly, terribly boring. And with the boredom comes guilt. How can the pain of others be so tedious? Well, just ask why we avoid watching the programmes about "starvation in Africa" - it's combination of helplessness and a basic human desire to be happy and amused, not miserable and nauseous.

The film is shot entirely in steely grey tones, presumably to emphasise the depressing subject matter and the fact that these scenes occur in the past. But the wash of the colour is also tiring on the eye, and doesn’t help alleviate the crushing sense of hopelessness.

Flags, unfortunately, doesn't always do much to sell itself. Yes, it does get its point across if you are forced to sit through it, but it goes on way too long. The scenes of life back home are stilted, dull and preachy. Here's a legitimate opportunity to show people how war and heroes are constructed and planned. Instead director Clint Eastwood delivers characters that seem to be typical of their time and nothing more - constructed, but not heroes. Racist, dutiful and obedient to authority figures, even when those figures have lousy ideas, like "run towards those bullets even if you know you have no chance of survival". Which shows that heroes are of their time, but humanity is everlasting. Good point, Clint.

But the point is lost in the overwhelming onslaught of unremitting, brilliantly filmed violence. You're likely to leave the cinema thinking " Why are people so evil? And is there any point finding an alternative to war, or caring, when people are so evil? " It's a difficult, and depressing question raised by a difficult and depressing film.

Critics are raving about this film. Audiences will not be.

- Jean Barker
What a brilliant idea for a film. But what an awfully depressing execution. So, heroes are constructed. So, war is terrible and violent. So, what’s new?


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moviefan 2006-12-04 11:47 AM
The Truth I haven't seen the movie, but I want to comment about the review. War is not romantic. It is also does not include "light stuff". It is brutal, violent, tragic and often unnecessary. It's about time humans got a wake up call, and realise what we are doing to ourselves. Most people do not realise the power movies have over us. They are used for entertainment, but they can also be used in a way to spread messages, such as humanity should stop fighting amonst ourselves. Even though this movie is not pleasant to watch, it is the truth. Ask any war veteran.
Jean Barker 2006-12-04 02:38 PM
The Nature of War Hi there "Moviefan", whoever you may be. I know that war is not romantic. I'm not argueing that it's anything else. Just saying that at the end of it I felt defeated, not ready to change the world, and that most people will not enjoy it, even if some more thinking people do see the value in it. To teach people you need to entertain them. This film doesn't, in my opinion, entertain at all. I've watched many great war (well, anti-war) movies that did.

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