Flags of Our Fathers

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Flags of Our Fathers
Fathers (7/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

On February 23, 1945, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the image of six Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. That photograph garnered Rosenthal the Pulitzer Prize and became a turning point for America in World War II.

Flags of our Fathers is the true story of those Marines at Iwo Jima. It is based upon James Bradley's biographical novel of the same name, a book written as a tribute to his father, John Bradley, who was one of the soldiers in the photograph. The movie rights to the book were originally optioned by Steven Spielberg who, at the time, was still enjoying the success of Saving Private Ryan. After sitting dormant for several years because of a lacklustre initial screenplay, the project was revived in 2004 with Spielberg acting as a producer, Clint Eastwood in the director's chair and Oscar-winning screenwriter (and fellow Canadian) Paul Haggis re-tooling the screenplay.

Told through a series of flashbacks, Flags of our Fathers tells the story of James Bradley's journey to discover his father's role in the battle at Iwo Jima. Interviewing several of his father's acquaintances from the war, Bradley discovers that his father, John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe) was one of the soldiers in Rosenthal's famous photograph. The film moves between Bradley's interviews in the present, and the battle and subsequent homecoming in the past. It features an ensemble cast which includes Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Benjamin Hickey, Barry Pepper and Paul Walker.

Flags of our Fathers is not a typical war story. Its focus is not the battle or the valorous acts of the participants in that battle. Instead, it tells the story of three of the soldiers who were involved in raising the flag at Iwo Jima and their reactions to being labelled as "heroes" when they returned from the war. It explores their guilt and sorrow about the friends that they left behind, and it depicts how those emotions effected them in the years following the war. In the present, it shows them discarded by a society no longer in need of heroes following the war.

In many ways, this is an excellent film. The cinematography is stunning. The battle scenes are reminiscent of the disturbing realism that was present in Saving Private Ryan. The movie is well-cast and features strong performances by Ryan Phillippe and Adam Beach. The musical score is outstanding - even more so when one realizes that it was composed by none other than Eastwood himself.

In spite of all of its promise, as Flags of our Fathers ended, I could not help but feel that there was something missing. This film did not elicit an emotional reaction from me - it left me feeling ambivalent. This was not a story that translated well to the big screen. At best, it was an interesting history lesson. Unfortunately, that was not enough to make it an interesting feature-length film. Although it was more realistic than Saving Private Ryan, I suspect that Spielberg knew that this film paled in comparison to it, and it was for this reason that he passed the director's hat to Eastwood.

Although this film is rated PG, I believe that it would have been more appropriately rated as 14A. Many of the battle scenes are quite graphic, and are likely to be disturbing for younger viewers. It should be noted that this movie is rated R in the United States.

Flags of our Fathers is a movie which is likely to attract several Oscar nominations. It deserves recognition for several strong acting performances and for its stunning cinematography. In spite of this, I found that there was an undescribable quality, that quality that distinguishes a good film from a truly great film, that seemed to be missing. This is a film that is worth watching - but one that might be better saved to watch on DVD while bundled up on the couch on a cold winter night.

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