Thursday, November 09, 2006

Movie Review: Flags of Our Fathers

War is often on our minds nowadays and cinema reflects that concern. But many movies are more interested in underlying issues than merely describing the events. And that is the way it should be. Clint Eastwood's latest offering, Flags of Our Fathers, tells the story of the famous image you can see at right. During WWII, the US landed on Iwo Jima, a very small island of great political and strategic significance. There were thousands of Japanese soldiers holed up and the US Marines casually landed thinking there was noone there -- then found themselves in the middle of a bloodbath. During the following days, the US finally dominated the island and the famous photograph was taken and became a rallying point for the US. The government capitalised on it by bringing back the surviving soldiers in the photograph to raise money to finance the war effort. The only problem was that what looked like a heroic action in the middle of battle was not what it appeared to be. I won't go into details about the events, suffice it to say that Eastwood strips away the mythology surrounding this photograph, showing how a whole idea -- a concept -- can be fabricated and used to seduce a nation.Cynical cinema goers may expect a movie like Flags of Our Fathers to be jingoistic. But Clint Eastwood is a director who rarely portrays things as simplistically black and white. Here we see all sorts of tensions in real characters who struggle with moral questions, both on the battlefield and back home. The battle scenes are powerfully and realistically rendered -- reminiscent of the famous opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. CGI is used to stunning effect as we see a vast fleet of battleships converging on this small island. This is alternated with close up shots of the men in the thick of battle trying to deal with an overwhelming flood of death and then scenes back home as the "heroes" are manipulated to propogate their inspirational valour while underneath they suffer from guilt and vulnerability. Flags of Our Fathers is a powerful, unsentimental film that avoids overly criticising the US goverment or blindly praising it. In many ways it's a simple story that speaks for itself and shows how easy it is to believe what we want to believe -- and how easy it is to get those who desperately need something to hang on to in desperate times to believe what we want them to. Flags of Our Fathers is the first of two movies Clint Eastwood is directing about this same event. This movie portrays the story from the point of view of the US soldiers. In his next movie, he will be depicting it from the Japanese perspective. This should be fascinating -- for how often do we take the time to try to understand things from more than one point of view? My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'As he did in "Unforgiven," "Mystic River" and "Million Dollar Baby," Eastwood handles this nuanced material with aplomb, giving every element of this complex story just the weight it deserves. The director's lean dispassion, his increased willingness to be strongly emotional while retaining an instinctive restraint, continues to astonish.' - Kenneth Turan/Los Angeles Times Negative Review 'Flags of Our Fathers fails as fact or legend. It's woefully incompetent as narrative moviemaking.' - Michael Sragow/Baltimore Sun Content Warning Sequences of graphic war violence and carnage, and for language AUS: MA USA: R

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