Eastwood Stumbles with Flags
General George Patton once said that the best strategy ever devised can be quickly rendered useless by the application of lousy tactics, while a flawed strategy can be rescued by practicing sound tactical principals. In the case of moviemaking, the technological marvel of computer generated images (CGI) and the performers are the tactical tools used to accomplish the strategic objective of bringing a movie's story and action to the screen. Unfortunately, the amazing CGI effects and the strength of the cast can't entirely lift Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers out of the realm of mediocrity.
The movie revolves around remembrances of the survivors of the six men who raised the US flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in February of 1945. We see that informal interviews are being conducted about the battle and its aftermath, but don't fully understand the connections until the end of the movie, when it's finally revealed that the son of the Navy Corpsman accompanying the Marines, John 'Doc' Bradley, has actually been visiting each of the surviving members of his father's unit.
Right off the bat, viewers endure a clumsy and historically inaccurate attempt to weave in a comparison to the Vietnam War. During the first interview, Dave Severance, played by Harve Presnell (who portrayed Gen. George C. Marshall in Saving Private Ryan), says that from the moment the photo was published of a Vietnamese officer shooting a VC in the head, that the war was lost, and that 'we just pretended otherwise' until our withdrawal from Southeast Asia. Likewise, he says, the Joe Rosenthal picture of the flag—raising on Mount Suribachi won the war for the US.
This is simply propagandizing to a new generation of Americans without providing context or any modicum of historical accuracy. That the shooter was the town's sheriff, who was understandably enraged that the VC he executed was part of a unit that had kidnapped and brutally murdered the sheriff's family is never mentioned.
It is odd then, that a movie ostensibly concerned with debunking myths and legends concerning the flag—raising on Iwo Jima would perpetuate a favorite myth of the 60s—era anti—war left without an iota of skepticism. But it's maybe not so strange, when one of the screen writers turns out to be William Broyles, Jr., who also wrote the screenplay for Jarhead, another horribly inaccurate war movie that focused on the selfish needs of a lone, dysfunctional Marine.
At any rate, Joe Rosenthal's famous picture on Iwo did not win WW II any more than one photo of a VC execution caused the US to lose the war in Vietnam. And for Eastwood and Broyles to draw such a flawed comparison, or to push the courage and determination of our service men and women to the fringe, is enough reason to avoid the movie altogether.
After the initial interview, the film is a confusing jumble of vignettes that leaves the audience busy trying to decipher a triple flashback format. But the real problem is that Eastwood can't figure out if he wants a rehash of Saving Private Ryan, or if he wants a remake of The Outsider, which examined the psyche and post—war troubles of Ira Hayes in a far more straightforward and sober manner.
The most inane segments of the movie occur when the 'non—heroes' return to the States to pump up war—weary Americans to buy War Bonds one more time or else, it is intimated, the entire war effort will collapse before final victory is achieved. The looming financial disaster of a wartime US, barely scraping by, is horribly overplayed in the film.
One might chalk it up to the exaggerations in the pep talk by the men's handler prior to their appearances at the bond rallies. Yet, this notion is reinforced when they meet President Harry Truman, played by veteran character actor David Patrick Kelly. This is not one of his best outings. As Truman, he comes across as Ken Lay redux, the polite, firm, and somewhat greasy CEO—type, announcing that the country's fate hangs in the balance if 'you boys' don't get Americans to pony up $14 billion dollars.
This is ludicrous on its face. The Manhattan Project had been going gangbusters and the US would detonate the world's first A—bomb in a couple of months, all accomplished with the expenditure of many billions of dollars. Germany would surrender in a few short weeks, and troops, ships, tanks, and planes would start to converge on the Western Pacific as required. War manufacturing was at its peak, and showed no signs of letting up any time soon. And most of all, Harry Truman, who had assumed responsibility from FDR for carrying out the policy of unconditional surrender, who would later decide to drop two A—bombs on Japan to ensure victory, is now reduced in the movie to a nervous money—grubber, hatching some Rube Goldberg scheme to grab one last buck from tired American investors.
Anyone buying any of this dreck? Apparently, Clint Eastwood thinks you will.
The Corpsman's son narration finally makes some sense of this mess, and it never hurts to remind Americans about the sacrifices of our service men and women both past and present. At this, Flags does very well, even if it saves this important message until the end.
Hollywood has, at least for the moment, seemingly lost its Germany/Hitler fixation and finally realized that we also fought a war in the Pacific. It was a fight against a far more brutal and inhumane enemy, who carried the Warrior Code to fanatical extremes. In this sense, The Great Raid and Flags of Our Fathers provide a necessary reality check by depicting the horror of battle in the Pacific against an enemy not unlike the jihadists of today.
Nevertheless, Flags simply has too much post—modern baggage to effectively and consistently convey what's at stake when the US goes to war against an extremist and suicidal foe. For my tastes, I'll stick with The Great Raid. Better yet, Eastwood might even consider a movie about the battles for Fallujah, Najaf, Kandahar, or... never mind. That's probably in the too hard to do category.
Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of American Thinker.