Thursday, February 08, 2007


Since Unforgiven Clint Eastwood has specialized in Hollywood films drained of moral clarity. Remember when Dirty Harry was a darling of the right wing? Harry went after bad guys, and was unafraid of legally questionable means. Reagan said "Go ahead, make my day." Clint served alongside Sly Stallone and Chuck Norris in the '80s conservative entertainment backlash. These days Harry--instead of relying on his partners Smith and Wesson--says "Let me point out the intricacies and question the assumptions of this situation, and I'll get back to you." As a result, upon the release of Flags of Our Fathers the right wing lather machine bubbled over. Eastwood's portrayal of the history behind an iconic and sacred image--the photo of US Marines (and one sailor) raising Old Glory on Mount Suribachi--reeked of course of historical revisionism and Hollywood liberalism. How dare Eastwood question the PR manipulation of the "heroes" of Iwo Jima? Why should the distasteful post-war experience of Ira Hayes get so much focus? Why parse the projection of individual and societal necessities onto three young men who served as little more than blank slates, and who were embarrassed by the idolatry? Can't we have any myths untouched by fact? Must everything be deconstructed? Is nothing clear-cut?

Perhaps Eastwood made this film because of Pat Tillman or Jessica Lynch. The same cynical and hypocritical game was played with their images. I'm glad to see a Hollywood conservative making a film critical of democracy at war, during war time. Are there ever really good or bad guys? Not according to the "heroes" themselves, whose words are used in the film. I look forward to Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima, which commits the cardinal sin of telling the Japanese side of the story.

Although worth seeing, I have major problems with the structure of Flags of Our Fathers. The pacing is clumsy, the narrative disjointed, the flashback technique became artificial after two or three uses--and downright tiresome after five or six. The leads are barely given time to flesh out their parts. Perhaps Eastwood intended this; the leads after all are manipulations, and are portraying guys who were wholly manipulated to the point of nearly losing their individuality. Another cost of war.

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