October 11, 2006

Review of Flags of Our Fathers

Flags of Our FathersAmbitiously tackling his biggest canvas to date, Clint Eastwood continues to defy and triumph over the customary expectations for a film career in "Flags of Our Fathers." A pointed exploration of heroism--in its actual and in its trumped-up, officially useful forms--the picture welds a powerful account of the battle of Iwo Jima, the bloodiest single engagement the United States fought in World War II, with an ironic and ultimately sad look at its aftermath for three key survivors. This domestic Paramount release looks to parlay critical acclaim and its director's ever-increasing eminence into strong B.O. returns through the autumn and probably beyond.

Conventional wisdom suggests directors slow down as they reach a certain age (Eastwood is now 76), become more cautious, recycle old ideas, fall out of step with contemporary tastes, look a bit stodgy. Eastwood has impertinently ignored these options not only by undertaking by far his most expensive and logistically daunting picture, but by creating back-to-back bookend features offering contrasting perspectives on the same topic; the Japanese-language "Letters From Iwo Jima," showing the Japanese side in intimate terms, will be released by Warner Bros. next year.
Adam Beach's role as one of three survivors is central to the movie:Of the three, Gagnon embraces his sudden celebrity, gallivanting around with his fiancee and expecting great things to stem from it. Already haunted by the horrors he witnessed, Bradley copes in a subdued way. But Hayes, whose story was dramatized onscreen in 1961 as "The Outsider" with Tony Curtis, of all people, portraying the Pima Indian, can barely hold it together.

Feeling from the outset that their participation in the tour is a "farce," that the real heroes are the guys who died or are still out there fighting, Hayes drinks heavily, embarrassing himself while having to stomach the everyday casual racism of being called "chief" or being refused service.

And once they've done their bit raising billions for the government, they're left on their own to put their lives back together. It's not an easy road, particularly for Hayes, who in one moving, genuinely Fordian moment, treks a long distance for a brief visit with the father of one of his fallen comrades.

Given this dramatic, wrenching arc, Hayes' story becomes the heart of the movie, and Beach, who previously played a Native American in the Pacific campaign in "Windtalkers," unquestionably takes the acting honors with it, delivering a full sense of the character's pain and sense of entrapment in an absurd situation.

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