Gonna take a two second time out from Jane Austen and Santa Barbara polo writing to deride and dismiss Clint Eastwood's latest directoral over-hyped disappointment, Flags of Our Fathers.
A friend of mine had warned me aout the movie in advance by saying, "I wanted to walk out at least twice it made me so angry." Myself, I didn't get as angry, because I have taken to watching the relentless and pathetic ravings of grayhaired baby-boomers with kind of a sick fascination these last few years. I sit there watching them with a cruel grin, the way one watches lobsters hissing while they go headfirst into a pot of boiling water. "You're going down, boys and girls. Your power is gone. And you are the only ones who don't know it. Pass the melted butter."
Anyway, much more egregiously than in Saving Private Ryan, Flags of our Fathers seems to be trying to make the case that nobody who fights in a war is a hero. They just end up there on battlefields and then their bodies get chopped up by the whims of meglomanical politicians and generals. And they die confused and angry and wondering what the hell we are all here for anyway?
This kind of tedious angst absolutely fits from a generation that decided to rebel against everything in their youth, and now have nothing in which to believe. But the thing that makes it my business, is that it absolutely undercuts any fun I might have at the movies, watching a story where the filmmaker has no coherent point of view!
Movies are supposed to be better than the real. That is, they are supposed to offer some kind of coherent, intelligible meaning. The audience is watching to try to put together and then either assent to or reject whatever the filmmaker is communicating. If the filmmaker is basically communicating, "Heros? Whatever. What does anything matter anyway?" then the viewing experience will be alternately disquieting and then confusing and finally irritating to the audience.
So, nobody in the theater clapped at the end of Flags of Our Fathers ...unless you count the nods we got to my sister's exhalation, "Thank God that's over" as being a kind of accolade.
Maybe I should get more specific here....
The movie makes the classic story mistake of making much ado about nothing and missing something much bigger in the process.
So, the basic storyline is, "Nevermind those 5,000 guys who died fighting the Japanese on Iwo Jima. The BIG story is how there were two photographs taken of these guys raising the flag!!!! God, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?! They had TWO flag-raisings on Iwo Jima!!!!! IT'S STUNNINGLY MIND-BLOWING!!!!!! TWO FLAG PICTURES!!! QUICK! SOMEBODY CALL CLINT EASTWOOD!!!!!"
I remember once a student of mine coming to me with a pitch for a movie. The idea was basically flawed in the same way as Flags of our Fathers. The pitch was all about the story of the first "First Man" of the United States. That is, the first guy married to the first female president. So, the movie story kept talking about the woes of the first first man trying to pick out china and then decorating the White House and trying to get the kids off to school all while the first lady president is dealing with avoiding WWIII.
See the problem? The big story is THE FIRST FEMALE PRESIDENT! The first, "First man" is the stuff of a comic sub-plot on the side.
This was the problem with the original West Wing concept, btw. In exactly one week, Sorkin and company figured out that the West Wing was only interesting because of its proximity to the Oval Office, and that the Presidency needed to be what the show was really about.
Okay, so, the first flaw of Flags is, as my sister said to me halfway through the movie and then many times thereafter throughout, and in the car going home, "I really didn't care about the drunk Indian guy. I wanted to be back on that beach with the Marines." Yup.
I can only surmise that the reason the movie, and the book on which it is based, spend so much time on non-essentials in this story, is because they think that politicians conniving to raise money for war bonds is innately more compelling than watching 5,000 Marines die.
For the Watergate generation, however, unmasking dirty politicians is always what it is about. "See, if we can unmask corruption in the establishment, maybe nobody will see the rot and inconsistency and meaninglessness of our own disastrous sexual revolution racked lives. If we can say that "The Greatest Generation" wasn't really that great, maybe we can drown out the voices of our kids who hate us for our selfishness? If we can say that there are no heros, even on a place like Iwo Jima, then maybe we can rid ourselves of the uneasiness we feel for our own pampered narcissitic lives?"
The look of Flags is great. There are some beautiful tableaus of the starkness and horror of war. Some of the bloody effects were badly executed and border on slasher-cheesy, but the main look of the battle scenes was quite effective. We just get far too little of it.
I went to the movie expecting to see fleshed out some of the myriad heroic stories of which I have read so much in my weird obsession with battlefield heroics. There were none of the Iwo Jima stories here. Just an obsession with a minor factoid that should have been a two minute scene at best in the larger story.
As with every Eastwood film, the directing of the actors here is horrific. The characters are all made to be one dimensional stereotypes - remember the "bad bully guys" in the gym and the redneck Christian trailer dwellers in Million Dollar Baby? Well, here we have "crooked corporate lobbyist guy", "arrogant clueless senator guy", "angry brutish general guys" and lots of "clueless farmboy soldier guys." And many more. They could make a dictionary of stereotypical characters from Clint's filmography. Really, really a bad actor's director.
Flags should be buried with a jubilant jazz-styled riff of TAPS. Don't hit this beach. Pass, Marines.