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Iconic war image provides inspiration for Eastwood

PUBLISHED: 14:02 21 December 2006 | UPDATED: 10:28 07 September 2010

Flags of our Fathers (15) Directed by Clint Eastwood, Starring Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford, Barry Pepper, Paul Walker and Jamie Bell 135 mins Three star rating BY MICHAEL JOYCE It s an Eastwood film but it s produced by Spielberg and falls

Flags of our Fathers (15) Directed by Clint Eastwood, Starring Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford, Barry Pepper, Paul Walker and Jamie Bell

135 mins

Three star rating

BY MICHAEL JOYCE

It's an Eastwood film but it's produced by Spielberg and falls securely within the remit of his ongoing mission to make sure that the simple heroism of the ordinary men who fought the Second World War is never forgotten.

After Saving Private Ryan and Band Of Brothers, Flags moves the operation on to the Pacific theatre.

It's the story behind a photo - the iconic shot of six faceless marines planting the Stars and Stripes over Iwo Jima. For the three soldiers still alive when the battle for a tiny Japanese held rock is over, that photo would be a ticket home, the government sending the "heroes" around the country to support the push for people to buy War Bonds.

It's lazy to compare it to Saving Private Ryan - but the parallels are so close you just can't ignore them. They're both stories of soldiers sent home for propaganda purposes, both feature brutal and ferociously intense beach-landing scenes and both celebrate a taciturn, low-key bravery. They even look much the same.

The battle sequences are shot using colour desaturisation, which strips the image of most bright colours and leaves it close to black and white. As in Ryan, this is in sharp contrast to the full-palette domestic scenes back in the States.

The difference is that this is on a larger scale. With its massive shots of the fleet and the aerial battles, there are more computer graphic shots here than in the average sci fi movie. But Clint is a very different film-maker to Spielberg. Spielberg grabs the audience by the hand and drags them along towards what he wants to show them. Eastwood sits back and gently tries to coax the viewer towards his objective.

Flags has a challenging narrative structure and the busy script by Paul Haggis and William Broyles Jr pulls lots of tricks.

It switches back and forth between the battle scenes and the three soldiers struggling with being hailed as heroes in their homeland when so many of their comrades are dead. Sequences are introduced early on and then left hanging, waiting on a pay-off in the second half. There's even a little Citizen Kane nod, with a faceless and unidentified researcher trying to find out the significance of a man's last words.

The aim is to try to chart the way the events on Iwo Jima resonate through the protagonists' lives and those of their offspring. But it tends to dissipate the impact of the battle scenes. Eastwood allows the narrative drive to fritter away in the closing scenes because that's true to the experiences of his characters.

It's a thoroughly decent, honourable and honest movie. But it's like a brisk walk over old ground. If Ryan had never been made we'd be hailing it a masterpiece. But now if feels a bit redundant. Doubly so, as Eastwood has made a companion piece called Letters From Iwo Jima, the story of the battle from the Japanese perspective, which is due out in February and is likely to overshadow Flags.

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