Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Clint Eastwood continues his calling to make deep, important movies. This time he has made two at a time, about the battle of the Japanese military strategic island Iwo Jima towards the end of WWII. Letters From Iwo Jima looks at it from a Japanese point of view, whereas Flags of Our Fathers has an American perspective, depicting the battle in itself, but more importantly portraying the wake and effects of that famous photograph of six American marines planting the stars and stripes on a peak on the island.
Eastwood's message is about our perception of heroism and the politics involved in that and in warfare. His position is clearly anti-war, and his film has a clear parallelism to the contemporary political situation in the world in general and in the United States in particular. Unfortunately, he isn't able to convey his message with any freshness or individuality. Not for the first time, Eastwood takes himself too seriously, giving the film an unengaging combination of superiority and detachment. Eastwood isn't discussing matters, he makes it seem that he knows better, that his view is the right view.
There are technical problems as well. The choice of intercutting the two timelines (one concerned with the battle on the island, and one concerning the aftermaths, centered around the suggestive public effects of the famous photograph) does nothing to enhance either storyline. Eastwood jumps back and forth with a lack of vision and smoothness. And the choice to film battle scenes with an almost colourless palette has been done so many times that it threatens to become counterproductive. The fact that the film is so preoccupied with being omnipresent makes both storylines less engaging. In the end, Eastwood has introduced too many secondary characters and been too fluctuating for too long for the film to be the thought-provoking message he intends.
The Flags of Our Fathers deals with an interesting and harrowing part of history, but doesn't give it the correct focus and relevancy. The film is never bad; it tries to do all the right things, and has some effective segments, but ultimately Eastwood tries too hard. It doesn't help him much that he has deployed mostly lacklustre thespians. I'm willing to bet a fair bit of money that Letters From Iwo Jima will be better. It often is fruitful to look at things from a distance.