Flags of Our Fathers

Bomb Rating: 

The great story hidden in this mess is about how veterans are haunted by their experiences. This movie misses that boat. Instead, it's like some mediocre after-school special.

Clint Eastwood's World War II drama is staggering -- not for its portrayal of the Battle of Iwo Jima or for the strength of its story -- but for the number of things that just plain don't work. Among those are Paul ("Crash") Haggis's juvenile script, the multi-tiered storytelling, a bunch of dry performances, and Eastwood's uninspired direction.

Haggis's unnecessarily complicated script is a major pain in the ass. There's obviously more to the story of raising the flag at Iwo Jima, the image that was immortalized in a wide variety of ways and became a vital tool for raising money at the end of the war. The flag in the picture was actually the second flag put up and three of the involved soldiers reluctantly went on tour to promote war bonds. While the film is about the men and their experiences both during and after the war, it's also about the importance of heroes and how that perception doesn't always match reality.

The three soldiers who go on the tour are John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach). The movie bobs back and forth between the battle, the tour and an interview taking place in present day between survivors and Doc Bradley's son, James Bradley (Tom McCarthy), in an effort to present different aspects of the war.

A single scene provides an example of what's screwed up. Ira Hayes is a Native American. Because of the tour's marketing, the memory of what really happened weighs on his conscience and he starts drinking. Bradley finds Hayes swinging a chair at police one night and gets him to calm down, at which point Hayes points to the bar owner and cries, "He wouldn't serve me." It's ironic that through his racism, the bar owner was probably doing Hayes a favor and it also raises the question of why that's a concern to Hayes since he's already drunk. Somebody served him. Regardless, the scene is so basic, so pointless, that I expected Eastwood to emerge from behind the camera and explain how racism was bad so the youngsters in the audience might get the point.

All three of the principal characters are duller than Wesley Snipes's tax acumen. It's true that Ira Hayes was an alcoholic, but in this film he's little more than a stereotype. Ryan Phillippe plays Bradley like a guy who's on Ritalin. And while there seems to be something underneath Rene Gagnon, since he's the one character who seems to understand the importance of the bond promotion, he's nothing more than a cog in the film's grand design.

The great story hidden in this mess is about how veterans are haunted by their experiences. This movie misses that boat. Instead, it's like some mediocre after-school special.

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