July 05, 2020
Column

Eastwood’s ‘Flags’ confronts the costs of war

In theaters

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, directed by Clint Eastwood, written by William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis, 132 minutes, rated R.

Clint Eastwood’s new World War II movie, “Flags of Our Fathers,” is what the recent World War I drama “Flyboys” should have been. It nixes cheap sensationalism to cut to the core of war’s grisly realities – from the battlefield straight through to Washington’s public relations machines.

In “Flyboys,” Tony Bill’s approach was to gloss over the harder edges of those realities. He ignored today’s current climate and made a war movie one could watch in relative comfort, perhaps with a soft drink and a bucket of popcorn.

People are killed in his film, but because the emphasis is on the sheen of its special effects and not on its two-dimensional characters, you never feel their loss the way you should. The film was designed to be a patriotic powerhouse, though it has the soul of a video game. “Flags,” on the other hand, is grittier. It doesn’t eschew patriotism – far from it – though it is laced with the commercially less-appealing sting of cynicism, which gives it added interest and depth.

Typical of Eastwood, whose stoic, no-nonsense cool assists the movie even if its fragmented structure doesn’t, “Flags of Our Fathers” is focused on its characters first, the rousing backdrop of war second.

The film is concerned with the power of a singular image – Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph of six unidentifiable men lifting an American flag high atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945. It was an image that gave hope to a nation fatigued and nearly broke – on every level – by war. Recognizing in that hope an opportunity for propaganda, some in Washington convinced the photo’s three survivors to make public appearances around the country to raise money for the war bond effort.

Those men were Navy corpsman John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillippe) and Marines Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), all of whom were in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time, as the movie explores) when Rosenthal snapped the photo.

As written by William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis from the book by James Bradley and Ron Powers, “Flags” becomes about their inward struggle to deal with the heroism cast upon them. For Rene, it’s easiest; he enjoys the fame. For Doc, it’s difficult, though Ira suffers most – not only because he believes he doesn’t deserve the adulation, but because, as a Native American, he counters the crush of racism at every turn.

Beyond the performances, which are good, the battle scenes are masterful, particularly in an early scene that evokes the Omaha Beach landing in Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.”

For Eastwood (whose film is co-produced by Spielberg), the beach in question runs along the black sands of Iwo Jima, where the hail of Japanese gunfire carves a forest of flesh as the men come off the boats to fight. The action and the carnage is unrelenting, with Eastwood hammering away at his soldiers and at his audience. What he achieves is a heightened sense of realism that fills our senses to capacity until it bends us backward into surrealism. The effect doesn’t thrill the way lesser war films do. Instead, it humbles.

Grade: B+

On DVD and HD DVD

SLITHER, written and directed by James Gunn, 96 minutes, rated R.

Ever since the mid-1950s, when B-movie classics such as “Them!,” “Tarantula” and “The Deadly Mantis” proved there’s nothing financially itsy-bitsy about big bugs gone berserk, Hollywood has delivered its share of creature-features, from such insect-infested shockers as “Earth vs. The Spider” and “Invasion of the Bee Girls” to the relatively more recent “Tremors,” “Starship Troopers,” “Mimic” and “Eight Legged Freaks.”

Now, just in time for Halloween, the deadly bugs have come creeping again, this time in the form of throat-dwelling space slugs with a rather aggressive agenda. They appear in James Gunn’s “Slither,” a slimy, postmodern homage to the B-movies of yesteryear that features scores of the slithering creatures taking over the forgotten town of Wheelsy.

It’s easy to see why this town has been forgotten. Located in a slice of rural America that’s perfectly scary even without the bugs, Wheelsy’s townsfolk are mostly foul-mouthed, bourbon-soaked, mullet-wearing hillbillies two steps removed from the shallow end of the “Deliverance” gene pool. They like to shoot their deer and belt out their karaoke hits almost as much they like to knock back their share of beers.

When a meteorite slams into Wheelsy, the town’s chief of police, Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion of “Serenity”), is too bored to notice; he’d rather sleep. But when the wealthy Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) stumbles upon the meteorite in the woods and the slug that was inside takes over his body as its host, soon everybody has no choice but to notice, starting with Grant’s wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks), who sees changes in her husband that are a wee bit alarming.

Though it doesn’t take its subject seriously – it’s having too much fun for that – the movie works hard to capture the correct B-movie tone, which is critical to its success. The film also pointedly pilfers from many other films, particularly Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” whose influence is realized as each infected person becomes a member of the walking dead and is more than happy to chow down on a neighbor’s entrails.

As with so many zombie movies, table manners have no place here – why should they when fresh intestines are on the menu? Gluttony, however, can and does bloom in “Slither,” and what it builds to is one savage little garden.

Grade: B

Visit www.weekinrewind.com, the archive of Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s reviews, which appear Mondays in Discovering, Fridays in Happening, and Weekends in Television. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

The Video-DVD Corner

Renting a video or a DVD? Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith can help. Below are his grades of recent releases in video stores. Those in bold print are new to video stores this week.

Akeelah and the Bee – B+

American Dreamz – D-

ATL – B-

Basic Instinct 2 – D+

Batman Beyond: Season Two – B+

The Benchwarmers – D

Bewitched: Complete Fourth Season – B+

Big Momma’s House 2 – D

Breakfast on Pluto – B

The Break-Up – B

Brokeback Mountain – A-

Broken Trail – B

The Brothers Grimm (Blu-ray) – D-

Capote – A

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 – C-

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – A

Click – C-

The Constant Gardener – A-

Curious George – B

Date Movie – D-

Derailed – C+

Double Indemnity – A

Facts of Life: Complete Third Season – C

Failure to Launch – C-

The Family Stone – D

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift – B

Freedomland – C-

Friends with Money – B

Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties – C+

The Hills Have Eyes – D

A History of Violence – A

How Art Made the World – A

Howl’s Moving Castle – A-

Humphrey Bogart: The Signature Collection, Vol. 2 – A-

Inside Man – B+

Junebug – A

Kinky Boots – B+

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – B+

Last Holiday – B

The Libertine – D

Lucky Number Slevin – B

Justice League Unlimited: Season One – B+

The Matador – B+

Match Point – A

Mission Impossible III – C-

Monster House – B+

Munich – A-

Nacho Libre – C

North Country – C

The Omen – B-

Over the Hedge – B

Paradise Now – A-

Poseidon – B

A Prairie Home Companion – C

Red Eye – B+

Rumor Has It… – C-

Saving Shiloh – B

Scary Movie 4 – D+

Scrubs: Season 4 – A-

The Shaggy Dog – C-

Shakespeare Behind Bars – A-

16 Blocks – B

The Squid and the Whale – B+

Slither (DVD and HD DVD) – B

Stay Alive – D-

Take the Lead – C-

Transamerica – B

United 93 – A

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (HD DVD) – A

X-Men: The Last Stand – B-


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