Lost in period details
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war!" Shakespeare's Othello
On February 19, 1945 30,000 American troops fought 20,000 entrenched Japanese on a tufa island called Iwo Jima. After the US lost 2000 troops the first day but went on to take the island, one photo image may have inspired the nation to support the WWII effort to its victorious end.
Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers is a film about images, starting with the famous photo of the flag raising at Iwo Jima to the image the surviving raisers must deal with as heroes. For this theme of flawed and ironic hero worship, the director is laudably consistent, indeed relevant to the current craze of celebrity worship where former wrestlers and football players become ersatz heroes by way of film imagery.
His evocation of the volcanic wasteland is starkly monochromatic, a black and white as it was meant to be?drained of glamour, pervaded by a simple sense of good and evil (a luxury representation in today's complicated wars).
Where Eastwood goes wrong is blurring the soldiers' identities, both in war and as old men, leaving no hero to attach emotionally to, and abundant anticlimaxes (After the flag raising, how much do we need to see of a drunken Indian and immature pretty boys?).The mystery of what soldiers were in the photo is old before the end of the first reel.
The director of Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, choosing a Longest- Day motif, loses himself in accurate period details to the exclusion of dramatic details that would have made Flags of Our Fathers a great experience for those who are not in the Greatest Generation.
Next year Warner Bros. will release Eastwood's counterpoint to Flags based on the Japanese-language "Letters from Iwo Jima," as he shows the Japanese side of the conflict. Here's hoping it is not as weak as Flags.
A retired captain (Harve Presnell) in Flags says, "If you can get a picture, the right picture, you can win a war." But not an Oscar.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com