The battle sequences may make up only half an hour of the movie but they’re well done. After modern films like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, there’s only so much you can do with war without getting repetitive. Here, Eastwood creates a claustrophobic, disorienting battle that’s visually bleak and emotionally effective in anchoring the rest of the movie. And it’s this “rest of the movie,” off the battlefield, which separates FLAGS from the average war flick. You always see ordinary men become heroes in combat, but what happens afterwards? It sounds nice to have parades in your honor or to be greeted with applause when you enter a room, but what if you just want to forget all the terrible things you experienced? The film does a good job presenting this alternate viewpoint to the typical hero story, but also explains why it was necessary for the country at the time. Still, seeing the three veterans paraded through each city as a blatant PR ploy to sell war bonds is disheartenning, especially since it’s based on a true story.
The performances do well in selling that story, which is surprising considering the cast includes such beacons of quality like Jesse Bradford, Ryan Phillippe and Paul Walker. However, the only actor truly given anything to do in Paul Haggis’s script is Adam Beach as the alcoholic Ira Hayes. His dynamic performance sticks out like a sore thumb and really draws attention to the film’s repetitive structure: the men go on tour, there’s a flashback to the war, Ira gets drunk, repeat. I’m doing the movie a disservice by breaking it down like that, but it does follow a pretty generic formula.
In the end, it was almost a relief to see a film that doesn’t glorify war in the traditional sense, but still manages to honor the men who fought and offer a more realistic definition of what it means to be a “hero.” (I wouldn’t expect anything less from Eastwood.) If anything, FLAGS OF OUR FATHER makes me really interested to see the rest of the story in LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA.
If there was a movie that warranted a behind-the-scenes feature or an in-depth historical documentary, this was it. Hell, if PHAT GIRLZ can get a commentary, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS deserves one.
Extra Tidbit: Jared Leto was offered a role in FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, but turned it down to concentrate on his band 30 Seconds To Mars. Hmmm, work with Clint Eastwood….or wear eyeliner and pretend to be an emo rock star. Yup, smart choice. Dumbass.