Flags of Our Fathers (UK - DVD R2)
Scott McKenzie checks out the first of Clint Eastwood's 2006 WWII movies...
Based on the novel of the same name, Flags of Our Fathers tells the story of the men who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima, and what happened to them when the US government picked up on their apparent heroism to raise money for the war effort. In reality, the photo that was plastered all over the newspapers back home was the second flag raised on Iwo Jima and the ‘real’ heroes of the conflict didn’t get the credit they deserved. We follow the three surviving soldiers as they come to terms with their roles in the charade as the government takes full advantage of them.
The novel Flags of Our Fathers was written by the son of John Bradley, one of the surviving flag-raisers. His father never talked about the war and it was only after his death that James Bradley began to find out the truth. Director Clint Eastwood has taken the novel and created a film of two interwoven halves. On one side we have the events leading up to the attack on Iwo Jima and the conflict itself and on the other we see what happens to them when they return to the USA. Both sides to the story are told in parallel as flashbacks, driven by the character of James Bradley, interviewing people who knew his father.
After deciding to make Letters From Iwo Jima to give us the Japanese perspective, Flags of Our Fathers focuses solely on the American viewpoint, so much so that Japanese characters are barely ever seen and when they are, they don’t stay alive for long. Even when the Americans land on the beaches of Iwo Jima, the guns taking aim at them are shown as just that—guns without the face of a human being with their finger on the trigger. That isn’t to say that this is a Michael Bay-style stars and stripes love-in. Even before the supposed heroes are coerced into convincing the American public to buy war bonds, the powers-that-be are shown to be fallible people who put political motivations before tactical decisions.
Even though beach-landing stories have been filmed over and over again, the unique situation the central characters find themselves in allows for a unique combination of genres. I can’t think of another war-press conference movie and while that may not sound like an exciting premise, it provides the opportunity for drama on a wider scale. What happens to heroes when they are forced to trade on something they didn’t really do, all the while knowing that the adulation they receive is undeserved? The three soldiers all deal with the aftermath in different ways, with the greatest performance coming from Adam Beach, who plays the alcoholic Native American Ira Hayes.
Where Flags of Our Fathers fails to rise above other highly-polished war epics is in the emotions of the characters and their relationships. The scenes that attempt to establish camaraderie between the soldiers don’t quite work for me and it’s not until they reach American soil that I warmed to the characters. I found Ryan Phillippe’s performance the coldest and while it may be appropriate to someone who didn’t like to talk about his experiences, I certainly didn’t find it compelling. It’s not until the last twenty minutes that we really get into the root of the characters.
In this post- Saving Private Ryan world, the battle scenes look exactly how you might expect them to look. Washed-out colours, hand-held camera work and digitally enhanced backgrounds all serve their purpose to give us a realistically bleak picture of the brutality of war. However, it’s the effect of the media on the general public’s perception of war that is the main theme in Flags of Our Fathers and in this respect it succeeds. The film looks great, has some strong performances and tells an interesting story about a war that has served as fodder for thousands of movies but for me, the sum of its parts didn’t make it the classic Hollywood epic that the director was aiming for.
Flags of Our Fathers is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. A high quality picture is essential to this release because of the major role the colour representation plays in the movie, particularly in the battle scenes and the movie looks as good as you’d expect from a major studio release this far into the life of our favourite shiny disc. No grain, dirt or scratches here—just a clear, sharp picture with good detail in long wide shots.
Other than the Stereo audio descriptive track, the only audio option is Dolby Digital 5.1. The soundtrack doesn’t disappoint, and a war movie is always good for giving your surround system a workout. Bullets whiz from speaker to speaker and the guns and explosions are loud, but not so loud that they drown out the music or dialogue. It’s not just the battle scenes that impress though. The echo of the microphone during the soldiers’ appearance at Times Square is just one example of the high audio standard throughout this movie.
Presumably to devote as much space on disc one to the video and audio quality of the movie, all of the extras can be found on the second disc. However, the ‘Introduction to Flags of Our Fathers’, where Clint Eastwood talks about his visit to Iwo Jima and shows original footage of the flag-raising would surely have been better placed before the movie. In addition to the theatrical trailer, there are six featurettes, which all go into detail about specifics of the making of the movie.
‘Words on the Page’ introduces the viewer to James Bradley and goes into details about his quest to find out about the moment his father never talked about but referred to secretly as the happiest of his life. Screenwriter Paul Haggis also talks about his job of turning the book into a screenplay.
‘Six Brave Men’ includes interviews with Clint Eastwood and all of the lead actors, where they talk about the real men they portrayed on screen and how they prepared for their performances.
‘The Making of an Epic’ goes into detail about how Clint Eastwood wanted to adapt the novel and Steven Spielberg became the producer because DreamWorks had already optioned the novel. The director of photography also talks about his working relationship with Clint Eastwood, who he has worked with since 1981.
‘Raising the Flag’ shows the attention to detail the filmmakers and actors went into to accurately recreate such a historical moment, including little character traits the actors picked up from watching the original footage over and over again.
‘Visual Effects’ is probably the most interesting featurette of all. The visual effects supervisor talks about how the digital effects are added into the film and the complications that arose from Clint Eastwood’s decision not to shoot with a green screen. For those of you who are interested (and I’m one of them), the construction of the special effects shots is shown layer by layer and gives a great insight into the digital effects processes as a whole, not just specific to this film.
‘Looking into the Past’ is a compilation of newsreels and footage from the time of the war and does not fit into the interview/movie footage structure of the other featurettes.
Flags of Our Fathers might not quite be the great American epic, but in this release fans of the movie won’t be disappointed. The movie looks and sounds great and while sadly missing a commentary track, the extras are comprehensive and provide a lot of valuable information about different aspects of the making of the film.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 9th July 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Icelandic
Extras: Introduction By Clint Eastwood, Six Featurettes: Words On The Page, Six Brave Men, The Making Of An Epic, Raising The Flag, Visual Effects, Looking Into The Past, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Benjamin Hickey, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker
Genre: Action, Drama and War
Length: 126 minutes
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