' Cinema Romantico: Flags of Our Fathers

Friday, October 27, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers

We've all seen the photo. Six men raising the flag on Mount Suribachi at the Battle of Iwo Jima. I recall being familiar with the picture long before I had any idea where these soldiers were when it was taken. Clint Eastwood's latest movie tells the story behind arguably the most famous photograph of all time.

Of the six men in the photo (5 marines and a navy corpsman), three do not survive the battle. The other three (Ryan Phillipe, Adam Beach and Jessie Bradford) are essentially ordered home to assist in drumming up the war effort on account of their sudden celebrity status.

The film cuts between the often gruesome battle and the scenes back home with the three "heroes of Iwo Jima". This device makes the war scenes even more jarring than usual. Unfortunately, the movie is also framed by a flashback involving the son of the one of the characters going around interviewing survivors of the battle. What, is this a requirement of every war movie now? Didn't Eastwood see "Saving Private Ryan"? Didn't he know what would happen?

This is not the fatal flaw of the film though it alludes to it. The whole enterprise feels like I'm that son sitting and listening to these old guys tell the story. Or, to say it another way, the movie doesn't transport me to that time and place. It doesn't put me there. Or, to say it even another way, it's as if I'm watching a documentary on the History Channel with higher production values.

The movie tells me WHAT happened to these three men but it doesn't tell me how these three men FELT about what happened. Adam Beach as Ira gets a little characterization in the form of being a drunk who doesn't want to be called a hero. How accurately this reflects the real-life person I cannot say but I can only assume the real-life person was more complex than this. Phillipe and Bradford don't even get to be saddled with a cliche. They get less than that.

Thoughts of Jessica Lynch and how her story compared to the flag-raising I had while watching the movie were being invoked by the topic of the movie - not the movie itself.

There are hundreds of books on this subject and I'm sure there are numerous documentaries. So what was it? What caused this movie to be greenlit? What made it necessary? What about this movie set it apart from the rest?

The answer, it turns out, is nothing.

1 comment:

Rory Larry said...

Ira Hayes died an alcoholic, quite famously remembered in the Johnny Cash song, The Ballad of Ira Hayes. I think its well documented that his post-traumatic stress brought on his alcoholism.