Flags of Our Fathers
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Clint Eastwood
scr William Broyles Jr, Paul Haggis
with Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Benjamin Hickey, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker, Neal McDonough Melanie Lynskey, Robert Patrick, Judith Ivey, Beth Grant
release US 20.Oct.06,
UK 22.Dec.06
06/US DreamWorks-Warner 2h12

Face the public: Phillippe, Bradford and Beach

pepper bell walker

Torino Film Fest

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Flags of Our Fathers Not only is this film an astonishing recreation of a major WWII assault, but it also dares to take a different approach to war. It may be slightly sentimental and melodramatic, but it also says something new and important.

Doc, Rene and Ira (Phillippe, Bradford and Beach) have been yanked off the beaches of Iwo Jima to tour America selling war bonds. They're the surviving members of that famous flag-raising photograph, now huge heroes back home. But they're struggling with their roles as marketing tools, remembering their fallen comrades (including Pepper, Bell, Walker and McDonough). And they're discovering that there might be something seriously wrong in a world so obsessed with a fantasy that it completely ignores the truth.

The story is structured from interlocking flashbacks within flashbacks, including modern-day scenes with Doc's son interviewing survivors for a book (on which this film is based). There's also a lot of footage of the build-up to Iwo Jima, and the harrowing battle itself. All edited into scenes of the three young men playing to cheering stadium crowds back home. It's immaculately filmed in a drained colour palate, with many Iwo Jima scenes actually shot there. And the digital re-creations are seamlessly impressive.

With such a choppy structure no actor gets the chance to really shine. But there isn't a weak link in the cast, and each actor has an amazingly strong scene all their own. Beach's character arc is the most striking, as it also takes in the entire issue of Native American prejudice. While at the centre of the storm, Phillippe gives a nicely un-selfconscious performance.

Even though the film has a strong emotional punch, Eastwood struggles to generate an overall tone. We're gripped by each story, even if some inter-cutting is glaringly obvious, while other sequences are disorienting. And the years-later framing scenes actually water down the central narrative. But this is still a vitally important film, looking at soldiers as raw human beings rather than heroes, capturing the mundane realities of wartime, the duplicity of political commanders and the dangers of manipulating public sentiment with the media. In this sense, it couldn't be more timely if it tried.

cert 15 themes, language, strong violence 10.Nov.06 tff

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2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall