By: The Dweeb
Flags of Our Fathers is a compelling docudrama drama about the lives and experiences of the six soldiers who were in that iconic photograph of the flag raising, and the controversy surrounding the photo. The original book, as well as the film does not just portray the events of that vicious battle from far away, instead brings us right into the middle of the action from the American perspective and examines the lives and experiences afterwards of this group of soldiers. It is a very emotional film, as each man comes away from the experience a completely different person, carrying the burden of the war for the rest of their lives. Nobody had any idea that being an anonymous person in some photo would change their lives forever, for those that survived afterwards.
The film is not told in the typical linear format, it is a collection of flashbacks, jumping from the beaches of Iwo Jima, to the war bond tour and even the modern day. Because the book it is based on is just a collection of stories, writer Paul Haggis had the monumental task of translating this into a cohesive story. Initially, in one the extras he states that he didn’t want to tackle this project as it was too complex. The end result was that he was able to boil it down enough for Clint Eastwood to get the major points across without diminishing the significance of this battle. It was important that they got it right, or else there would have been a lot of pissed off marines.
For the ensemble cast, Eastwood wisely chose fairly unknown actors for each major role. Anyone who is recognizable is relegated to relatively minor supporting roles. They knew this was an important film, and by removing any associated ego’s with big ticket actors would only strengthen the film. I just have to ask why Barry Pepper (as Mike Strank) seems to land these World War II roles constantly? He was also in Private Ryan. Out of all the roles in the film, the stand out performance would have to go to Adam Beach who plays the troubled Ira Hayes. His experience on the battlefield probably changed him the most, and he subsequently couldn’t handle all the publicity afterwards from the photo. He brings out the raw emotion locked inside Ira, who lashes out at everyone for calling him a hero even though he thinks he is not. Eventually, he succumbs to alcoholism and leads a troubled and short life after the war.
As with its companion piece Letters From Iwo Jima, the film is short in stark washed out colors almost in black and white. The battle scenes are frenetic, hand held and effectively portrays the hell of Iwo Jima. The use of CGI in the film is obvious in some parts, but they do not overwhelm either. The sound mix is also fantastic for this film, hence the Oscar nominations for 2007. The second disc included provides extensive material on the making of the film, and provides a lot of historical background for the battle and the participants. I highly recommend watching these afterwards. If you purchase the Commemorative Edition, which includes Letters From Iwo Jima and a 3rd documentary DVD, I highly urge you to watch Heroes of Iwo Jima first. If you know nothing about this part of the war, and the photo this will bring you up to speed.
Flags of Our Fathers is considered to be one of director Clint Eastwood’s best films and I would have to agree. I highly recommend it.