ALL about… Flags of our Fathers

Robert Taylor

Credit: Jason Hall

Flags of Our Fathers is a movie searching for a purpose, a ship without a rudder, a symbol without anything to represent. It doesn’t know what it is, and because of that it can do nothing but fail.

The story tries to be about a lot of things, but is mostly about the famous Iwo Jima picture where six servicemen are raising the American flag. It inspired a nation to believe in a war they were becoming jaded with and convinced millions to buy war bonds when the United States was nearly bankrupt.

The movie follows three of the men (Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford and Adam Beach) who helped to raise that flag and how it affected their lives. Almost as soon as the image hits papers, they are sent back to America and go on a campaign to help raise money for the war effort. Of course, battles ensue between the three, and the rest of the movie follows the typical Oscar-bait formula of undermining a national figure and leaving characters with unhappy endings.

The viewer isn’t given a focus, so we really have no idea why we are following these men, why we should care about their battles or why the movie should exist.

There are flashbacks to the battle at Iwo Jima that involve an odd mix of static special effect shots and the usual shaky camera moves that make the viewer sick and unsure of what they saw. Viewers are led to believe that perhaps they are hiding some secret about the battle. They aren’t and they end up being flashbacks for the sake of flashbacks.

A big deal is made about how the men have to raise $15 billion in war bonds, but it’s never revealed if they reach that point.

Bradford’s character has a girlfriend who hangs on him every chance she gets, and we are led to believe she might become somewhat of a villain, but she never does.

Instead, Flags focuses on three characters who are complete clich‚s fighting every step of the way to do the greater good. How dare America believe they are heroes, they should bicker and battle about it and put the campaign for war bonds in jeopardy every chance they get. The film pokes fun at how everyone thinks the Native American in the group is an emotional drunk because they don’t know better, but then the movie shows the man is infact an emotional drunk, turning the character into a complete stereotype.

If the plot devices and characters seem a little scattershot and random, that’s because it’s that way in the film. None of the storylines (the frame story, the battle or the war bond campaign) have an arc to follow and don’t intersect properly.

The film tries hardest to make the famous photograph next to meaningless. Viewers know the photo was taken during a second flag-raising, which this film underlines but takes it much further. Characters babble on for minutes about how the photo is terrible and shouldn’t mean anything to anyone. Characters call the people who believe in it idiots. A man who is in the picture isn’t mentioned. The three men begin to loathe the fact that they are in the campaign.

But it feels wrong to have three characters make trivial arguments and criticize an entire country as idiots because a photo touched people’s lives.

A great amount of talent was wasted here. Phillippe gives a surprisingly textured performance as the most boring of the three men, while Bradford and Beach overact their clich‚s to different degrees. A phenomenal supporting cast that includes Barry Pepper, Robert Patrick, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker and Neal McDonough is utterly wasted.

I’m not sure what went wrong here. There are moments when the viewer feels that the film may be on the cusp of realizing what it is trying to represent, but never follows through.

Contact ALL correspondent Robert Taylor at [email protected].

Flags of Our Fathers

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Written by William Broyles and Paul Haggis

Starring Ryan Phillipe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, Barry Pepper, Robert Patrick, Jamie Bell and Paul Walker

Released by DreamWorks

Stater rating (out of five): ??