Flags Of Our Fathers (2006)

(In theaters, October 2006) History is fine and war history is even better, but mixing the two is a risky prospect. The battle of Iwo Jima was due for a post-Saving Private Ryan retelling. Unfortunately, his Flags Of Our Fathers often feels like the mash-up between two or three movies that might have been better left separated: First, you have the spectacular historical recreation, depicting men at war with the realism that only CGI reconstruction can provide. This section of the film is easily its highlight: It’s tense, chaotic, confusing, exhilarating and feels extraordinarily real. The famous raising of the flag itself is excellent, even if it’s not quite what we expect… and definitely doesn’t mean the end of the fighting. But this war drama is only less than half the film. The other almost-half of the film follows some of the flag-raisers as they’re brought back to the United States in an effort to promote War Bonds. While more thematically interesting, this section of the film is generously spliced in between the war fighting, giving the false impression of a deeper structure pulling it all together. Finally, the rest of the film is dedicated to a contemporary framing device that gives context, but also an unfortunate dose of on-the-nose “Greatest Generation” melodrama. And though, taken separately, most of Flags Of Our Fathers‘ segments are skilfully executed, their union somehow feels lesser than the sum of its parts. Part of it, I suspect, is that the filming took place simultaneously with another film, Letters From Iwo Jima, telling the same battle from the Japanese side of the events. Maybe we’ll have to wait until that film to drawn our conclusions… or maybe we’ll be able to mix-and-match segments from two films in order to tell four stories!

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