‘Flags’ fails to rise to potential

Ben Raymond

On an obscure and inconsequential mound amidst the screams and last

breaths, a flag is raised without ceremony.  A photograph is taken of a seemingly insignificant event.  Consequently, the most important shot of Iwo Jima was not executed from a gun.

With such a monumental image, one would assume that a film depicting this event would be powerful and moving. However, “Flags of our Fathers” proved to have more difficulties.

With the collaboration of Paul Haggis, writer of the last two Best Picture winners (“Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash”) and the man of all men himself, director Clint Eastwood, I expected “Flags of Our Fathers” to be a fine, worthwhile film. I thought Eastwood’s cinematic invincibility and almost superhuman talent for bringing the best performances out of the best actors would be celebrated as the film’s credits rolled.  However, I was sorely disappointed. 

The film weaves awkwardly between two stories.  One is a well-orchestrated symphony of carnage and suffering on the blackened sandy beaches of Iwo Jima.  Superbly choreographed with crisp, vivid cinematography, it’s a white-knuckle assault on your heart rate.  Though it surely does not yield half the cathartic abhorrence of the opening of “Saving Private Ryan,” it is an invigoratingly barbaric volley of war in its own right. 

The second plot is the story of the six flag-raisers as they are plucked from their companies and thrown into a different kind of battle.  This battle has no

bullets, blood or explosions. Here, the benefits and commendations of a ceasefire are shown.

Doc Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) travel across the United States asking Americans to buy war bonds in support of the war effort.  Sound boring?  It was.  But, it didn’t have to be. 

If Haggis had written substantial dialogue and not repetitive drivel, the film might have expressed some sense of cohesion.  The point is that no matter how great the director or how much potential a storyline has, quality films come down to good writing.  Haggis’ writing led this film right into a battle between boredom and insignificance that stalemates. 

Film aficionados and Clint-worshippers like myself will have

to hope Eastwood’s next film, “Letters from Iwo Jima,” which will examine the battle from the Japanese point of view, will be better. Perhaps this second movie will be a “hit” because “Flags of Our Fathers” surely was a “miss.”