Based on the book by James Bradley and Ron Powers, "Flags of Our Fathers" is director Clint Eastwood's exploration of the story behind the famed photograph of soldiers hoisting up the flag at Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Eastwood's film goes back-and-forth between the events of battle (and leading up to it) and events in the US and even includes a framing device set in present day. This approach is jarring and do take the viewer out of the story somewhat.
As for the military section, Eastwood's picture shows the moments leading up to the Battle of Iwo Jima and the battle itself, filmed in a style a little too similar to "Saving Private Ryan" (Steven Spielberg is a producer here) and with imagery that's also quite graphic. While other characters are introduced ("Fast and the Furious" star Paul Walker even plays a minor role as only Paul Walker can - badly), the focus remains on three particular marines: John Bradley (Ryan Phillippe) and soldiers Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) - three of the men who were in the famed photograph at Iwo Jima.
Whisked away from battle, the three men become instant celebs in a PR campaign by the government to sell war bonds, which is needed in order to continue funding the campaign, as the government has reached the point where it just doesn't have the funds. Although there are some flashbacks throughout the movie, the majority of the film follows these three men as they deal with the hurt and sorrow of losing their friends in battle and the turmoil they feel about being made into celebs to promote the selling of bonds to fund the war when they all know fellow soldiers who they feel were more deserving of being considered a hero.
The main issue I had with "Flags of Our Fathers" is the casting (I mean, whose idea was it to put Paul Walker in a bit part?) A movie like this needs actors who are capable of heavy lifting and Bradford and Phillippe just don't appear up to the task. Beach's portrait of a devastated Native American soldier deeply upset at his new role and haunted by what he saw in battle stood as the only powerful effort of the three. Bradford and Phillippe aren't terrible, but they seem bland in comparison. The script also doesn't develop these characters enough.
Technically, this is a pretty strong effort from Eastwood, who has not previously helmed a film with such epic scope and size. The film does employ some fairly impressive CGI during the battle scenes and Tom Stern's cinematography does a solid job capturing both the battle and dialogue sequences.
Overall, "Flags of Our Fathers" is well-intentioned, technically solid and working with an interesting story, but the film really could have used better casting (although there are some decent performances here, it almost felt as if Eastwood wasn't part of the casting process) and a more linear structure.
The companion film, "Letters From Iwo Jima", which is told from the Japanese perspective, was filmed back-to-back with the film, and whose release date on DVD has not yet been announced (sometime in 2007.)
VIDEO: "Flags of Our Fathers" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. With no extras and static menus, the film certainly has room to breathe on the disc. The transfer is certainly a very fine one, with excellent sharpness and detail. Small object detail is also impressive at times. As for flaws, no enhancement, pixelation or print flaws were noticed. Some slight shimmer was spotted, but it was barely noticable and only briefly seen. The film's subdued (although some sequences are brighter) color palette looked accurately presented here, with no smearing or other flaws. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate. Overall, this was a terrific presentation.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. While the battle sequences aren't equal to the kind of sound design that Gary Rydstrom was able to accomplish for the battle sequences of "Saving Private Ryan", the audio here certainly is still very aggressive during the battle scenes, with the surrounds providing various sound effects such as gunfire and explosions. Sound effects were also spread across the wide front soundstage well. Audio quality was impressive, as sound effects remained deep and powerful and dialogue sounded crisp and well-recorded.
EXTRAS: Nothing. The DVD does not even include chapter stops.
Final Thoughts:Overall, "Flags of Our Fathers" is well-intentioned, technically solid and working with an interesting story, but the film really could have used better casting and a more linear structure. The DVD offers excellent audio/video quality, but no extras at all. Recommended rental.
The Film B-