Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Flags of Our Fathers

Photo Opportunism

Every year, like clockwork,
Clint Eastwood makes a new film, and they become instant Oscar-bait. His last one was "Million Dollar Baby" (Hilary Swank won Best Actress-her second award, and Morgan Freeman won Best Supporting Actor) The year before that, "Mystic River" (winning Oscars for both Sean Penn and Tim Robbins). Eastwood shoots movies fast in a calm environment and leaves actors alone to do their job. And while most directors are making movies that jump and whirl just to prove they're doing their jobs, Eastwood sets up the shot, does a take or two and moves on. He's efficient, fast, and doesn't do any fancy cutting or post-production. In this way, he's very much like his mentor, Don Siegel. Siegel, too, wasn't afraid to throw a little controversy into the mix. Eastwood, a moderate Republican, has made movies recently that have condemned vigilante violence and lack of process ("Mystic River"), and turned a sympathetic eye to euthanasia ("Million Dollar Baby"). His recent work is not for the complacent, and "Flags of Our Fathers" is just as impatient with easy myths and lazy thinking. "Saving Private Ryan" can look at "The Greatest Generation" and sentimentalize them while acknowledging their sacrifice. Eastwood's film has the audacity to question blind patriotism and that sentimentality for the purposes of hucksterism. I'm sure when some neo-con blowhard actually sees this movie there's going to be as much controversy as there was around "Million Dollar Baby" among panicky right-to-lifers. As it is, I've already heard some CBS radio reporter in Iraq talking about the stationed soldiers "fighting for each other, rather than the cause," a line right out of the movie. How quickly this stuff travels...

Performances are top-notch from a bunch of actors never given their due--here, they shine. Guys like
Robert Patrick and Neal McDonough, good actors (whom you know from other things) with odd faces that will never be leading men are revelations here. Gordon Clapp from NYPD Blue has one scene of such comic ferocity that you'll never see him the same way again. Ryan Phillipe, thought of as the less-talented of a Hollywood marriage (and ironically they split up right after this film came out), belies that here. Barry Pepper, from "Ryan" plays an "old vet" of 25, with the slightest veneer of gravitas and bravado. And Adam Beach, of "Smoke Signals" and the Tony Hillerman adaptations on PBS, has never displayed the potential of his performance here. He has one devastating scene that will get him nominated him for an Oscar and probably win it for him. The day I saw it, there wasn't a dry eye or a nose unsniffled after it. The story of Ira Hayes has been told before on screen and in song, but never so effectively as here.

Eastwood's next movie will be coming out quickly, as he shot it simultaneously with "Flags...". It's also about Iwo Jima...from the Japanese perspective-"
Letters from Iwo Jima."

Eastwood is so good, he's scary.

"Flags of Our Fathers" is a Full-Price Ticket.

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