I (Tim) love movies about World War II. The men who fought in that war were ordinary men who knew that if the United States did not defeat Japan and Germany, it would be the next to fall to the Axis powers. War movies can be great (The Great Escape, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers) when they take an interesting story and make you care about the characters. They can be mediocre (Windtalkers, Pearl Harbor) when they take an interesting story, but tell it poorly with characters that are too shallow or just unrealistic. Finally, they can be awful (The Thin Red Line) when there is an incoherent story with characters that have no meaning to the viewer.
Flags of our Fathers, a new movie directed by Clint Eastwood, seemed like a can’t-miss to me. The American invasion of Iwo Jima and the famous picture of six marines raising a flag after taking the mountain is a fascinating story. (I have that picture on my wall.) The main problems I have with this movie are that the characters were not totally fleshed out, the story felt incomplete, and the directing seemed choppy. I had a hard time truly feeling for the characters, which is odd since Eastwood’s Mystic River did such a good job of fleshing out those characters. Aside from the main three Marines, the other characters were not developed at all, which is essential for this type of film. When a soldier was killed in battle, I had made no connection with that character and thus the emotional impact was lessened. Next, the scenes depicting the fight for the island (especially the scenes with the ship and aircraft bombardments) were great, but we never understood the full picture of what was happening. We saw the start of the battle and a few glimpses as the battle continued, but we never found out what happened later. Finally, the directing was hit and miss. The constant flashbacks were distracting and made it hard to follow the story. Also, there were scenes where the son of one of the Marines was interviewing survivors, but we never knew who they were and if we had seen them earlier. In all, the whole film felt like an unfinished story.
To be fair, I must say that the acting was solid and the film looked great. Also, Eastwood is making a follow up film to this movie called Letters from Iwo Jima, which is from the Japanese perspective. Perhaps that film will fill in some of the holes that Flags of our Fathers left. Overall, this is not a bad film, but I expected it to be much better. I guess I have a high standard for WWII films.