Re-visting Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers

Any film critic worth their salt will re-visit, re-view, and re-hash over material which has confounded them upon first viewing. I think it’s the most important approach a critic (of any art form) can have when faced with challenging work. First impressions might be the end all in the work place, but not when the theater lights dim. Flags of Our Fathers came and went this past fall without much public fanfare, although a few critics loved it, while most were ambivalent. First time out, I seemed to be caught in the middle. With such high expectations in mind, I was disappointed, finding the voice over narration and Spielbergian attitude toward past and present distracting and unnecessary. After screening the film again on DVD, I found myself drawn to different aspects, deeply intrigued by the strange structure of the story. The opening war sequences are stunning in brutality and scope, but ultimately become overwhelmed by the awkward shifts in time and setting and Paul Haggis’ obvious and tedious screenplay. This tension between Eastwood’s classic direction and Haggis’ formulaic script plays out till the final scene with the young soldiers joyfully playing in the calm beach water of Iwo. Flags becomes defined by this push pull relationship, at once lyrical, deceptive, and fascinating in it’s dissection of heroism and the common soldier, but also maddening, tired, and dumbed down through structure and dialogue. It’s a strange film, one at odds with itself over the most common cinematic devices, which ironically were solved so triumphantly in Eastwood’s parallel effort Letters From Iwo Jima (no Haggis this time). Flags of Our Fathers might not be a great Eastwood film, but it’s definitely one worth contemplating multiple times, because for me it represents a staggering conflict between American autuerism and mainstream simplistic melodrama, a battle which remains a fascinating, bloody, and raging experience.

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