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Review

Lee: ‘Fathers’ brings battle to life

November 9, 2006

It’s hard for war movies, or any nonfiction pieces, to give real justice to the men and women who are portrayed in them. Directors and producers blow things out of proportion, memories fade, and everyone ends up a martyr or hero at the end.

Call me cynical, but a great story doesn’t always make a great movie. In the case of “Flags of Our Fathers,” we run into those same clichéd problems. However, the computer-generated imagery and great acting performances bring the battle at Iwo Jima to life in a way that is so rarely captured on film. 

“Flags of our Fathers” follows the lives of three soldiers who were in the famous photograph taken on the island while they raised an American flag during battle.

But the plot does not flow chronologically as we are used to. The movie flashes out of order, showing the men in old age, on the battlefield and touring the country to promote war bonds.

This seems like it would cause a problem for the audience to follow, but if you’ve seen any recent war films, you’ve seen it before.

Ryan Phillippe plays Doc, a navy corpsman who seems to be the most levelheaded of the group. He isn’t fame-hungry like Private Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), and he doesn’t try to drink away the memories like Private Ira Hayes (Adam Beech).

Many of the other actors who play soldiers in the film have been in war movies before, like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Black Hawk Down.” Their characters never change or have a back story, which is fine because they usually die early in the plot.

Beech was also in “Windtalkers,” the movie about Navajo code used in World War II, but his performance was better than any of the others. The character became amazingly captivating even though Beech was still playing a Native American soldier during the war. While the story focused more on Doc’s character, the tragic thought of Ira was always there.

It is not fair to consider the storming of Iwo Jima and Normandy as the same battle, just on other sides of the world.

However, this film was produced by Steven Spielberg, so the similarities between “Flags of our Fathers” and “Saving Private Ryan” must be taken into account.

Many of the camera angles and shots during battle were first used in “Saving Private Ryan,” like water splashing on the camera lens and bodies floating on the shore. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — those are the most realistic ways to shoot a war film.

Both movies also discuss what it really means to be a hero. Again, if the theme isn’t broke, don’t fix it. But when you look at the movie as a whole, you might as well have called Spielberg the director and saved Clint Eastwood the trouble of getting up in the morning.

You might consider staying through to the end of the credits because the real black and white photographs of the soldiers’ journey are very moving.

I always love to put the reality back into the story because that’s what makes a war movie believable and fascinating. “Flags of our Fathers” may run into some typical problems early on, but once the characters grab your attention you’ll start calling them heroes too.

Jenna Lee is a student at UW-River Falls.