For the record, I am not in competition with Mr. Ebert (though his cushy job and whopper bank account is enviable). However, TT does on occasion give an amateur review or two, whether you asked for it or not.
Last Friday, Kman and I went to the picture show after a long hiatus. Not our choice, there just was nothing on the silver screen we felt deserved our sawbucks until Flags of Our Fathers came out. Since it's near on impossible to create "spoilers" for movies based on actual history, I won't be giving away any plot secrets here.
But, to be serious:
Flags of Our Fathers has a little different twist on the old theme of "war is hell". The movie unfolds...jaggedly, is the best way I can describe it. Eastwood does not use a linear story line, and I always have trouble with movies that bounce around in time. I like my stories in a straighter timeline, but that's just me.
The battlefield scenes on Iwo Jima have triple the expected gore, but they also have an eerie, very surreal feel to them. Charcoaled over with the gray gritty volcanic sand, the landscape is almost lunar-seeming; color created only with the deep red splashes of blood and the white fire of machine guns. As with Saving Private Ryan, these scenes are as close as I would ever want to be to real war, and Flags of Our Fathers is mercilessly violent. SPR gave you most of it's bullet-riddled body count up front during the actual beach landing; Flags keeps the gore of war ever present, but in shorter bursts which prevent the soul-numbing that overlong static battle scenes can create.
Though the cinematography was excellent, I was a little disappointed in the lack of character development - with the exception of Adam Beach, who gives a stellar job portraying Ira Hayes, the native American soldier who finds all the hero hype embarrassing and demeaning. While the other flag-raisers convince themselves that the job they are doing - boosting war bond sales - is necessary and important, it is poignant that a boy from the rez sees both sham and shame in the circus that surrounds them. Perhaps Eastwood is craftier than I give him credit for; by placing the character of Hayes at the center of the story, the definition of "hero" is not what's typical and expected. They were heroes, just not in their own minds. One especially moving scene, Ira Hayes is inconsolable in his grief. His wretchedness is tough to witness. Insisting that his platoon leader, Sgt. Mike Strank, is the real hero, "the best Marine I ever knew", Hayes delivers the most memorable scene in the movie. He just wants to go back to his unit, where he felt accepted and necessary, unlike his second-class life before the Marines. Sadly, he has no unit left to return to; they are all dead.
Flags of Our Fathers will certainly garner some deserving Oscar nods, and it is a movie you should see. When you go, be sure to stay for the credits. During our theater trip, the audience began to stand, stretch, and head for the exit aisles. Suddenly, the screen lit up with images from actual battles, and with photos of the real flag-raisers. One photo was especially gripping; on the craggy mountaintop of Suribachi, the monument dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives is framed by starkness of the island. It was then that I noticed all movement stopped; moviegoers stood so quietly and still you could almost hear the wind whipping across the empty gray beach of Iwo Jima. They stood to give their respect to the soldiers who bravely gave up so much for a country they loved.
When I saw Saving Private Ryan, I had to take a quick exit mid-movie to the ladies room. In the dark hallway outside, I came upon two older Vets standing off to the side. The old soldiers were sobbing quietly and consoling one another. I was embarrassed to be, albeit innocently, intruding into their private grief. It is these experiences I will remember more so than the actual films.
(Here is a great site to learn more about Iwo Jima.)