Friday, June 22, 2007

Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

Director: Clint Eastwood

This movie is all about heroes, and our definition of the word “hero”. It's like a behind the scenes story of a classic World War II film. Jumping back and forth between the real events and it's aftermath, we get to see what most war films leave out -- the war at home and the intense moral ambiguities everyone wrestles with while simply wanting their loved-ones back in one piece. At times it weaves around, not entirely flawlessly, but each part has a lot of meaning. First off, it looks beautiful. It’s realistic and epic in scale. The three main characters (played by Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, and Jesse Bradford) return from planting the famous flag on Iwo Jima, and they’re carted around the country like a rock group by their "label". But instead of albums, they’re promoting war bonds. And much like most "rise to fame" stories, they find out it's not all it's cracked up to be.

I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but the main characters aren’t given a lot of big scenes to show off their acting chops, like you would expect in an epic and emotional war film. It's more concerned with just getting the story right. I thought there were great performances (less is more), but I think it was done this way to create a surrogate character for the audience. We see things through their eyes, and we’re forced to think of what we would think or do in each situation, with great effect. In the end there is no right or wrong, and it doesn’t really matter who raised which flag, or who was in the photograph. Once the details of the famous photo begin to surface, people find out that what they had envisioned was much easier to digest than what the true facts were. The soldiers may have had to blur the lines of what actually occurred on that island, but they're trying to raise money for their comrades in arms. They try to balance using their fame to help a noble cause, all the while trying to let people know the truth, which could undermine their social status as "heroes". Nobody ultimately knows what will result from their decisions. They just feel this is the right thing to do at the moment in order to help save the lives of their fellow soldiers. And in the end, that is what makes it an intelligently crafted (and not to mention an extremely relevant) story.

The best scene (for me, anyway) is where Doc (played by Ryan Phillippe) is asked to point out to a grieving mother where her son was in the photo. He knows her son wasn’t really in it, and it seems as though she might know this too. It doesn’t matter though, because it was real to her. I think that scene probably best encapsulates this film. Be forewarned that this film is, in a sense, a flashback within a flashback. It jumps back and forth, and it’s a little unclear at times when and where things are happening, and who’s who. Ultimately, it’s balanced well, and there aren’t dull areas that could have used a little punching up in the script department. It’s a little like “Citizen Kane” meets “Saving Private Ryan.” Much like “Kane”, it uses an interviewer in the shadows (at first) asking about the true events of one man’s life (in this case, Doc’s) in order to unravel a secret as its main plot thread. And in comparison, the “Rosebud” in this film is the famous photograph. In both films, the actual object means almost nothing, but what it represents is what the entire film revolves around.

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