Flags of our Fathers at Hoyts, Broadway

I was expecting Flags of our Fathers to be a very strong film, and I wasn’t disappointed. The cinematography was amazing, and the muted colours gave the war scenes in particular a very powerful effect. I can’t really say whether this film or Saving Private Ryan had “better” combat scenes, but taken as an overall piece of cinema – visuals, story, acting – Flags of our Fathers was unquestionably superior.

It seems very presumptuous to have any criticism of a film about real people, who went through experiences I can’t fully imagine or comprehend, but I did have two minor concerns with it, at least while I was actually at the cinema. The first was that while I was watching it, I felt that the three main characters seemed to fall almost too neatly into roles that were in some ways almost cliched – the glory hound, the one who couldn’t take the pressure, and the one who handled it best, even though he was profoundly affected by the experience. At the time, this made me start to question the level of truth to the story. And yet, judging by the Wikipedia entry – and also by the book, which I am partway through reading – this really is what they were like. Maybe the film gave Doc Bradley a couple of extra central moments – I am thinking of the way he sort of became the spokesperson for objecting to the mix-up between Hank Hanson and Harlon Block – but in general, it does seem like it actually was a true representation.

The other thing is that I didn’t feel that the film told me anything new about the nature of heroism. I think what it had to say was important, and certainly bears repeating and thinking about anew, but ultimately it never gave me one of those “I never saw it that way before” moments. I’m not sure if I should even call this a criticism – certainly it in no way detracts from the power or the value of the film – but somehow the publicity had made me think I was going to get some new insights out of it all.

All in all, though, I thought it was an excellent film that I would certainly recommend. I am also finding the book (with a couple of reservations) profoundly moving. Once I finish reading the book, I may want to see the film again. And I am very much looking forward to Eastwood’s companion film, Letters from Iwo Jima.

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