Clint Eastwood is a name Americans know from his myriad of roles in films to his Oscar winning films (Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby) and it’s a name we’ll now associate with the Battle of Iwo Jima. Eastwood set out to make Flags of Our Fathers and in the process ended up making a second film, Letters from Iwo Jima. With both titles releasing on May 22nd in two-disc editions (or a five-disc collectors set), I set out to review both films and walked away from both equally impressed and for entirely different reasons.
Flags of Our Fathers is not your typical war movie. I had walked into thinking it would be something akin to Saving Private Ryan and instead found it to be more of a tale of the feelings soldiers have after war, rather than gruesome field battles (though the film sports plenty of this as well). Flags of Our Fathers tells the story of the history behind the iconic flag-raising image that was splattered all over newspapers and kept America buying war bonds. Combined with the war bond tour these surviving men in the photo were taken on, we’re shown just how affected they were by the war. When they re-create the event at a sporting event with fireworks popping, we’re thrown into the nighttime battlefield that is fought by the random flares that shoot up to light the land.
The directing in Flags of Our Fathers is not easily forgotten. Not only is each shot expertly laid out, the washed out color palette of the film is gorgeous to look at. All the dirty grime of war is portrayed through this filter and the sheer epic nature of the film itself is all shown beautifully. It’s not an easy film for your mind to forget, both due to its story and the directing.
One thing I noticed while I collected my thoughts about the film after it ended is that none of the acting performances really stood out. The characters, as odd as it may sound, kind of took a back seat to the story the film was telling. Character interaction was kept to a few small groups and the comradery seen on the battlefield and Adam Beach’s bedroom confession are the most moving in terms of performances of the film, but the other actors in the lead roles, Ryan Phillippe and Jesse Bradford, never seem to get many scenes to sink their teeth into. Again, the acting isn’t bad by any means, there just aren’t many performances that stand out—it’s mostly visual and directorial aspects of the film that stick in your head.
As an American it’s hard to deny how patriotic Flags of Our Fathers can make you feel. Seeing just what the men go through during times of war makes it easy to understand why some can come back so disoriented and disconnected from the world. Flags of Our Fathers does a superb job in not only telling the story behind the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima but also the stories behind the men in the photo and the men on the field.
Flags of Our Fathers comes in a standard two-disc amaray case, although this one has a noticeable black sheen to it (first time I saw a case like this was the A Beautiful Mind DVD). The interior is also a shiny black, with a disc on either side of the casing (no tray flap is given). An embossed cardboard slip attempts to simulate a “leathery” feel while the text is embossed and no inserts are provided inside, aside from one noting that you’re holding an “authentic” DVD (another attempt to thwart piracy). Disc art is solid grey like most Paramount releases.
Having not owned the previous, single-disc barebones release of this film I can’t comment on whether the menus on the first disc are the same, but both the first and second discs sport similar menu layouts which are all easily to navigate. There are no special features on the first disc and disc two starts out with an introduction by Clint Eastwood. This would have fit better on the first disc, which leads me to believe the first disc may very well be a clone of the original release.
There are six featurettes on the second disc in all and most are all over twenty-minutes in length. The featurettes range from the story behind the film, why it was made, how it was made, the recreation of the flag raising and the photo taken and the visual effects applied to the film. The amount of work that goes into films is always shocking to see and this film is no exception. The rotoscoping that was involved in one scene in particular was astonishing and the end result is a breathtaking shot of the ocean surrounding Iwo Jima that is littered with American ships.
The most interesting featurettes are the ones where we hear from the cast, crew and the son of John “Doc” Bradley. The whole story and discovery behind the details of the photo is remarkable to hear about, especially when Bradley’s son goes into detail about talking to the family members of the soldiers in the photo. While this ranks as one of the more enjoyable featurettes on the disc, I actually was most enthralled with the “Looking into the Past” feature, which showed news footage of the Battle of Iwo Jima as well as a brief bit of Bradley, Gagnon and Hayes and, of course, the original flag raising footage on Iwo Jima.
While there is no feature commentary or deleted the scenes, the featurettes show off just how dedicated the entire cast and crew was at working on the film. In particular, Barry Pepper who played Mike Strank arrived on set earlier than the rest of the cast so he could get into his role of being a sergeant better, making sure he was there to lead the cast should they require it. Pepper is somewhat of a “war” veteran as well from his past films, which include Spielberg’s epic Saving Private Ryan and the Mel Gibson We Were Soldiers.
The DVD portion of a film can completely fall apart if the film itself isn’t presented well. Flags of Our Fathers has absolutely no flaws in either the audio or visual transfer, I’m happy to report. Eastwood’s superb directing and the washed out color palette all transferred over to DVD beautifully. The pristine transfer shows off all the dirt, grime and blood of the battlefield while bringing about the more colorful hometown America shots throughout the film. Audio is terrific as well, with the surround channels getting plenty of action during the war segments and Eastwood’s excellent score coming over the speakers sounding beautiful and crystal clear.
Overall the two-disc release of Flags of Our Fathers is hard to pass up. The film is remarkable to watch and the bonus features are worth the upgrade from the barebones single-disc and when the film is paired with Letters from Iwo Jima it makes for a remarkable duo of films that won’t soon leave your mind.
Previous owners of Flags of Our Fathers, this is a Recommended upgrade. For those wanting to purchase the film new, I highly recommend you spring for the Letters from Iwo Jima / Flags of Our Fathers (Five-Disc Commemorative Edition) due to hit the same day as this two-disc set as well.
Flags of Our Fathers arrives on DVD, HD-DVD and Blu Ray May 22nd.