Flags of our Fathers
Eastwood and company recreate one of the most iconic photos of all time.

Theatrical Release Date: 10/20/2006
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach

One of my most anticipated films this year, “Flags of Our Fathers”, is the story behind the men who hoisted the American flag on Iwo Jima during WWII in one of the most famous pictures in U.S. history.

I was excited not so much for another WWII film but because it was coming from director Clint Eastwood.

His track record is phenomenal, going back to his Western heyday with films like “High Plains Drifter”, his resurrection of the Western in “Unforgiven” and more recently with gritty films like “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby”.

This project was something that he had wanted to do for some time but when the rights to the book became available, a certain Steven Spielberg got them first.

Over time, due to schedules and discussions about the project, Spielberg decided to be a producer on the film and Eastwood was finally able to direct.

A refreshing change in the war movie formula is that “Flags of Our Fathers” focuses on the use of the photo, and those in it, to spur on a war bond drive to finance the war campaign.

Sure, probably thanks to Spielberg in large part, the battle scenes themselves are brutal and reminiscent of the first 30 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan”. Expect dismemberment and disemboweling to be on the menu when you slip into the theater on this one.

However, this isn’t simply a tale of what happened on Iwo Jima.

To that end, Eastwood’s casting was concerned not so much with getting believable soldiers but with getting actors who could pull off a wide spectrum of emotions as they dealt with being hailed as heroes stateside in posh hotels while their fellow comrades were still fighting a war and sleeping in bunks if they were lucky.

Casting is where the movie began to go wrong. Sure, they did great at getting some of the military-only roles. The film boasts Barry Pepper, Neal McDonough and Robert Patrick – all of whom are perfect for their roles. “Billy Elliot” star, Jamie Bell, is also a pivotal character that was cast well.

But how in the hell did they cast Paul Walker? Does his agent have some embarrassing photos of Eastwood in a motel with the Orangutan from “Every Which Way But Loose”?

Thankfully, Walker’s role is small and he does die (HOORAY!). Sadly, his death is quick and the audience doesn’t get the proper time to celebrate. Still, a dead Paul Walker is better than the alternative.

Now when casting the main three actors who would be the core of the film, Eastwood and company went with Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford and Adam Beach.

I can understand Beach and even Phillippe, whose sour face and demeanor worked for this role well enough.

However, Bradford irritated me enough to almost ruin the film. While I see how his smug and glib routine is an essential part of the character, it was completely two-dimensional.

At no time was he a believable soldier and he’s never shown the ability to convincingly portray emotions outside of a high school mentality (hence my nickname for him of “Bring it Swimfan”).

Aside from that, there were two other crucial elements that I though were mishandled – a shift in the film’s focus three quarters of the way through and a painfully long death march of an ending.

Like so many films, “Flags of Our Fathers” is told largely in flashbacks. All fine and dandy, I can deal with that. Yet, at about the two-hour mark (of two and a half hours), the story essentially shifts from the recollection of the main characters to one of their sons as he tries to gather information for a book about his father’s ordeals in the war, both abroad and at home.

I realize that the movie is based on that book but it’s a completely useless element that only detracts from the rest of the story.

And then there’s the ending. You think the film is coming to an end and then, in what feels like 30 minutes later, the credits roll. The film goes on and on, following the lives of the central characters once their part in the war effort is over.

I could have done with losing the last reel of the film entirely and getting home sooner to make sure my fantasy football lineup was set.

All that being said, it’s not that “Flags of Our Fathers” is a bad film overall. It’s just so much less than it could have been.

However, I still hold out hope that “Letters from Iwo Jima”, the Japanese side to the conflict, will be nothing short of amazing and will renew my faith in Eastwood’s great talents.

I’m giving “Flags of Our Fathers” a 3 out of 5. Wait for DVD or at least make sure to catch “The Last King of Scotland”, “Catch a Fire”, “The Queen” and even “The Prestige” before you make it inside a theater for this one.