Flags of Our Fathers

8/10

Aware of the fact that the “Our” of the title, does not apply to me because I am a limey, and the fact that this was another Spielberg-produced version of WWII, I was expecting the usual visceral action, combined with some rather sad flag waving (no pun intended) as the last victory that Hollywood can celebrate victory is indeed WWII, over 60 years ago. I was pleasantly surprised, Clint has managed to do a great job of retaining directorial integrity and Paul Haggis has managed to make the script reflect the fact that real heroes do not really accept that there is such a thing as a hero.

The film is beautifully shot; using the actual island of Iwo Jima as well as the volcanic backdrop of Iceland makes the battlefield seem of another world, particularly when contrasted with the stadiums that our heroes go on to tour. All of these Spielberg-produced war epics have this fantastic feel to them, with the colours appearing dull, but beautifully rich in the war footage, and with more saturated colour in the modern footage, this time contrasting the world of the past with the present. So the cinematography is not subtle, but it is incredibly effective, even if we are becoming numbed to these incredible action scenes debuted by Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.

The cast lacks a particular star. These actors are really character actors, but I mean that very positively. The people involved in this whole story are fairly unremarkable individuals who happened to be in a remarkable place at a remarkable time, therefore the low-key casting is great. Ryan Phillippe continues to as an actor each time I see him onscreen, and Barry Pepper is just the sort of company sergeant that every company needs. All the actors are thoroughly believable and get the tone spot on, but the overall impression is that this is the work of an ensemble rather than a couple of actors dragging the rest of a company along behind them.

The anti-war and heroism motifs are represented with the ever-so-slightly heavy-handed brilliance that has won Clint his directorial Oscars. The film certainly makes a point of questioning exactly why nations go to war and why men do such extraordinary things both for and to their fellow man. And these are worthy, weighty themes that should be explored. But they are also worthy weighty themes to which we need some answers. Yes, indeed, you could say that propaganda wins and loses wars, and we should be aware of the difference between what we should believe and what we are being persuaded to believe, but I think, as we enter this new year, we should be presenting a new honesty to believe in rather than treading the old path that tells us not to believe anything we are told, particularly by politicians or the media. We know that, we know what not to believe, but can’t we have something to believe in instead?

This is a great war movie, as are all the best anti-war movies, and it is superbly executed, but perhaps directors as experienced as Clint Eastwood, writers as talented as Paul Haggis and producers as powerful as Spielberg should be providing us with inspiration to improve the world rather than more reasons to be sceptical and world-weary.