Film: Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Stars: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Walker, John Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell
Director: Clint Eastwood
Oscar History: 2 nominations (Best Sound Mixing, Sound Editing)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 1/5 stars
(Spoilers Ahead) I'm not entirely sure what it was in 2006 that kept me from seeing this film. I know for Letters I actually relented because I was going to be doing my film reviews for the Oscars (I was a writer on my school paper at the time), but the projector at the movie theater burned out and so I somehow managed to miss seeing the most recent Best Picture I have yet to see. But Flags, I'm not sure. I was in the heat of seeing at least one movie a week, and on-paper it had a lot of things that appealed to me: prestige topic, cute guys, Oscar buzz. But I'm guessing that was around the time that my eye-rolling toward Clint Eastwood's pictures hit its zenith which kept me on-the-fence about spending my very limited resources on such a film.
In the years preceding and in a couple of years since, I've had some about-faces on Eastwood's works, even some that I disliked at the time, but I am not what you'd call an obvious fan. I like Eastwood just fine as an actor and I'm pretty much over what some of his political standings are (I think with entertainers you largely have to dismiss those that you disagree with and be lucky when there's ones you actually share political beliefs with, as it gets too arduous to always find those who vote the same way you do), but his directorial style always feels a bit hackneyed. I've been scared for years to revisit something like Unforgiven, which I still think is his only unqualified masterpiece for fear that the years of under-edited biopics will have dulled my love of it, but while there are moments in his other films that have been strong (and I have high hopes for Letters), that western opus is his only truly great picture.
Flags indulges the things that I hate most about Eastwood's movies. The camerawork, even in scenes of broad daylight, are coated in a rough darkness that is hard to watch and practically makes you squint (I shouldn't have to put on my glasses if your film doesn't have subtitles). The characters are drawn in such broad strokes that morality can never really be a factor-who can cheer against even the worst of these men? The battle scenes are compelling, but nothing we haven't seen in hundreds of other movies and quite frankly nothing here approaches what Spielberg was able to accomplish in Saving Private Ryan. The film is at least twenty minutes too long, and doesn't establish any of the side characters enough, which is a pity considering he went to the point of hiring people who can, you know, actually act like Melanie Lynskey, Benjamin Walker, and Jamie Bell.
It's also a pity because what is usually the saving grace of an Eastwood picture, his role as a true actor's director, isn't found here as the acting is miserably bad. While others in his films have had his directorial indulgences, they've been saved by world-class talent like Meryl Streep, Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, and even Eastwood himself coming in and finding the humanity that he's attempting to achieve. Here, though, the three male leads are all abysmal. Jesse Bradford probably comes across the best since he can find some charm in his character. Ryan Phillippe, then still a relatively hot commodity, looks pretty but has nothing else but vacant emoting to contribute to the conversation (and what was with all of the guys getting half-naked and wrestling at the end of the film, as if Eastwood thought a nod to the hotness of his cast was going to save him from lusty critics). Worst of all is Adam Beach, giving some of the worst acting I've seen in a major motion picture in a while. Beach overplays every scene, badly, finding nothing but a hollowness in what is clearly the most interesting character in the film on-paper. Beach has always had trouble with finding subtleties in his character (I know this from seeing pretty much every SVU he's ever starred in), but this is horrendously bad. If there was any hope of saving this movie through acting, Eastwood cast the wrong guys in the lead.
All-iin-all, then, it was just an abysmal movie. It scored two gimme nominations for the Oscars (the two sound categories), and while that is an understandable nomination, it isn't really necessary. Even here the sounds aren't as clean as you'd expect from a war film (especially in the crowd scenes not on the battlefield), the music carries you in-and-out with too much regularity, and there's nothing special to warrant Oscar attention other than the Oscar-winner whose name is on the director's chair. A pow is a pow is a pow, as it were. I get it, but since the Academy was already headed toward Letters, was there really a need to go here too? Well I'll find out in about twenty minutes when I start that picture. In the meantime, share your thoughts-what did you think of Flags of Our Fathers?