Friday, June 13, 2014

Flags of Our Fathers

Based on the book by James Bradley and Ron Powers, Flags of Our Fathers is the story of the three surviving servicemen who raised the flag during the battle of Iwo Jima as they deal with the aftermath of war as well as being called heroes. Directed by Clint Eastwood and screenplay by Paul Haggis and William Broyles Jr., the film is part of a double-feature that both concern the battle of Iwo Jima as this film focuses on the American side as three men deal with the war and its aftermath. Starring Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, Paul Walker, Jamie Bell, Barry Pepper, John Benjamin Hickey, Joseph Cross, John Slattery, Neal McDonough, Melanie Lynskey, Thomas McCarthy, and Robert Patrick. Flags of Our Fathers is a harrowing yet gripping war-drama from Clint Eastwood.

The film is about the iconic image of six men raising the American flag on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima as it’s told from the perspective of a former Navy serviceman who thinks about the battle and its aftermath where he and his surviving Marine fighters went on tour to help sell war bonds. It’s a film that moves back-and-forth from the battle of Iwo Jima to what John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillippe) would encounter during his tour of the U.S. selling war bonds with surviving Marines in Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach). Throughout the course of the film, Bradley recalls memories of the battle of Iwo Jima where he lost a lot of friends while trying to save those as the Navy doctor. At the same time, he thinks about the tour he is in with Gagnon and Hayes as the latter descends into grief and alcoholism while controversy arises over who were the other three that raised the flag.

The film’s screenplay doesn’t aim for a conventional narrative as it’s partially-nonlinear in order for the older Bradley (George Grizzard) to reflect as his son James (Thomas McCarthy) would look into the stories about his father and why his dad had never told him about the war. Yet, the young Bradley would be the most reserved person who goes on tour as he just maintains a low profile while Gagnon and Hayes would both diverge into different paths as the former hopes the tour would give him opportunities after the war. Still, Bradley and Hayes are haunted by the battle in Iwo Jima as they reflect on their encounter and how their friends were killed. The film’s second act has a parallel storyline in which the survivors go on tour while James Bradley goes on his own journey to find out what happened in Iwo Jima as well as stories about the men who raised that flag on Mount Suribachi.

The script doesn’t just explore the world of war bonds as well as men’s struggle with the aftermath of war. It also plays into the mystery of that iconic image where one soldier’s name is mistaken as it creates some confusion until Hayes and Bradley would clear it up as it would make things more uncomfortable. Upon the script’s third act where Hayes’ descent becomes more evident as well as the growing discomfort among himself and Bradley in being called heroes. There is also the fates that plays into the three survivors as well as what James Bradley would discover as well as why his father had been very silent for so many years.

Clint Eastwood’s direction is quite versatile considering what he wanted to do where it is a war film in respect but it’s also a drama where he does maintain a balance with the different tones and multiple stories in the narrative. There is a sense of brutality that emerges in the battle scenes where Eastwood uses hand-held cameras and steadicams to capture its intensity and terror. While Eastwood isn’t trying to say anything new that’s been seen or heard before, he does however maintain that idea about war and its after-effects where many who fought in battle refuse to call themselves heroes. For the scenes where Bradley, Gagnon, and Hayes go on the road to sell war bonds, there is an intimacy in the direction but also an understated melancholia that is prevalent.

There is an elegance to the way Eastwood creates some of the moments of the tour as it’s quite lavish but also unsettling considering what the three survivors have to endure as they’re being pushed into the public spotlight. Eastwood wouldn’t go for close-ups as he would favor medium shots and wide shots to capture the period of the times as well as putting his actors into a frame to see how they react to certain situations. Particularly as Eastwood would convey that intimacy for James Bradley’s story as it would piece everything together as well as showcase the sacrifice Bradley’s father made for his country and for the people who would never have to fight a war. Overall, Eastwood crafts a very poignant yet powerful film about war and their reaction to being called heroes.

Cinematographer Tom Stern does excellent work with the film’s stylish cinematography with his tinted, blue-green look for some of moments in the tour while maintaining a gritty look for its battle scenes as it’s shot on hand-held cameras while taking great stock into the dark look of the land. Editor Joel Cox does brilliant work with the editing to his seamless approach to transitions and piece together the different narratives while going for unique rhythms towards the battle scenes in the film. Production designer Henry Bumstead, along with art directors Adrian Gorton and Jack G. Taylor Jr., does amazing work with the look of some of the buildings and such for the tour as well as the tents and camps in Iwo Jima.

Costume designer Deborah Hooper does nice work with the costumes with a lot of the mid-1940s uniforms and clothes many of the characters wear. Visual effects supervisor Michael Owens does terrific work with the visual effects such as some parts of the battle scenes along with some set dressing to create some of the buildings and such in the 1940s. Sound editor Bud Asman, along with sound designers Charles Maynes and Steve Ticknor, does superb work with the sound from the way it plays into the terror of war as well as the intimate atmosphere that goes on during the war bonds tour. Clint Eastwood’s music score is wonderful for its somber pieces to play into the drama while going for more bombast and ominous orchestral arrangements to play into the terror of war while the music soundtrack includes songs from the 1940s.

The casting by Phyllis Huffman is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small roles from Judith Ivey as Harlon Block’s mother, Ann Dowd as Mike Strank’s mother, Beth Grant as Gagnon’s mother, Melanie Lynskey as Gagnon’s fiancee Pauline, Neal McDonough as Captain Severance, Robert Patrick as Col. Chandler Johnson who leads the battle, Ned Eisenberg as the photographer Joseph Rosenthal who would take the iconic picture, George Grizzard as the old Doc Bradley, John Slattery as the slimy and greedy war bonds publicist Bud Gerber, Chris Bauer as a war bonds commandant, and John Benjamin Hickey as the Marines publicist Sgt. Keyes who understands the grief and torment that Hayes is going through. Other noteworthy small roles include Benjamin Walker as the humorous Harlon Block, Joseph Cross as the na├»ve Franklin Sousley, and Paul Walker as the tough and outgoing Hank Hansen as the other three who raised the flag. Barry Pepper is terrific as Sgt. Mike Strank whom Ira idolized as he was considered to be the older brother of the platoon.

Jamie Bell is excellent as Iggy Ignatowski who was Doc Bradley’s fellow medical officer who deals with the chaos of war. Thomas McCarthy is superb as Doc’s son James who would piece the stories that his father had been avoiding to tell him as he goes on his own journey to find out about his dad. Jesse Bradford is brilliant as Rene Gagnon as this young Marine who sees the war bonds tour as a chance to get some big money as Bradford has the look and humility to play a man caught up in the world of celebrity. Adam Beach is fantastic as Ira Hayes as a Native American Marine who is ravaged and grief-stricken by war as he descends into alcoholism to cope with his newfound attention. Finally, there’s Ryan Phillippe as Doc Bradley as this Navy medic who saw the war and all of its horrors while trying to maintain a sense of composure as he deals with the war bonds tour as it’s a very astonishing performance as Phillippe brings a great restraint to his role.

Flags of Our Fathers is a remarkable film from Clint Eastwood. Armed with a great cast, a powerful story, and amazing technical work. It’s definitely a war film that plays into the idea of heroism as well as the horrors of war in its aftermath. It’s also a film that pays tribute to the men who fought in World War II in Iwo Jima as it is a fitting companion piece to Eastwood’s other Iwo Jima film in Letters from Iwo Jima. In the end, Flags of Our Fathers is a phenomenal film from Clint Eastwood.

Clint Eastwood Films: (Play Misty for Me) - High Plains Drifter - (Breezy) - (The Eiger Sanction) - (The Outlaw Josey Wales) - (The Gauntlet) - (Bronco Billy) - (Firefox) - (Honkytonk Man) - Sudden Impact - Pale Rider - (Heartbreak Ridge) - (Bird) - (White Hunter Black Heart) - (The Rookie) - Unforgiven - (A Perfect World) - (The Bridges of Madison County) - (Absolute Power) - (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) - (True Crime) - (Space Cowboys) - (Blood Work) - (Mystic River) - Million Dollar Baby - Letters from Iwo Jima - Changeling - (Gran Torino) - (Invictus) - (Hereafter) - (J. Edgar) - (Jersey Boys) - American Sniper - (Sully) - (The 15:17 to Paris) - (The Mule)

© thevoid99 2014


Dell said...

When I initially saw this movie I liked it bit wasn't thrilled by it. I thought was a bit heavy on the cheese and definitely on the flag waving. However it was elevated by its much better half Letters from Iwo Jima. If you haven't seen that one yet I hope you get to watch it soon.

thevoid99 said...

Actually, I just finished my review of Letters from Iwo Jima which I had seen as it is the better film though I really do like Flags of Our Fathers.

ruth said...

Wow I forgot Clint Eastwood directed this. I've always wanted to know the story behind that iconic flag photo. I really need to see this one soon.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-While I think it's the weaker of the two Iwo Jima films that Eastwood did. It is still a remarkable film.

Alex Withrow said...

Great review. Letters from Iwo Jima always outshined this film for me. But when I covered Clint Eastwood last year, I rewatched Flags and realized how much I loved it. Adam Beach is fantastic here.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex Withrow-Thanks. I appreciated more upon repeated viewing. While I think Beach was great, I think Phillippe was better due to the fact that he was the most restraint and didn't try to be showy.