Movie Review: ‘Fathers’ flies despite ending

Two years ago, Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Now, “Flags of our Fathers,” Eastwood’s latest film, seems to be his attempt at a second Oscar in three years.”Fathers” tells the story of the three surviving men who hoisted the flag flown over Iwo Jima in World War II, immortalized in the statue outside the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va.

Although the photograph was taken during the second flag raising over Iwo Jima, it helped to cause a strong pro-war sentiment in the United States and made the three remaining men, two soldiers and a doctor, into heroes upon whom the entire country based its patriotism.

The film, much like its earlier World War II predecessor “Saving Private Ryan,” is unflinching in its portrayal of war and its atrocities. Soldiers’ lives are blatantly sacrificed for the good of the nation, and the horrors of war are realistically depicted throughout the film.

After gaining fame as a result of the monumentally popular photograph, John “Doc” Bradley, played by Ryan Phillippe (“Cruel Intentions” and “I Know What You did Last Summer”); Rene Gagnon, played by Jesse Bradford (“Swimfan” and “Bring it On”); and Ira Hayes, played by Adam Beach (“Windtalkers” and “The Adventures of Joe Dirt”) find themselves as spokesmen for the war. Although Gagnon sees this as an opportunity to propel himself professionally, Bradley and Hayes reluctantly go along with what they call a farce.

Both Bradley and Hayes disagree with the government’s handling of the photograph, arguing it wasn’t the first flag-raising and there was a mix-up in who actually appeared in the picture.

The film jumps between scenes for the publicity tour of the photograph, in which the men ask people to buy war bonds to further endorse the war, and the battle on Iwo Jima itself. This juxtaposition of inner turmoil, which involves the publicity tour, and their outer dread concerning their attempts to survive the war, propels the movie.

Barry Peppers (“Saving Private Ryan” and “The Green Mile”), John Slattery (“Traffic” and “Sleepers”) and Paul Walker (“The Fast and the Furious” and “Into the Blue”) also star. Peppers and Walker play two other soldiers who gave their lives in Iwo Jima. Walker’s character, Hank Hansen, was mistakenly thought to be one of the six men in the photograph but was actually one of the men who raised the initial flag.

Although the film paints a vivid picture of the events of the time – both at home and abroad – the story falters near the end when it digresses from the main story line.

Instead of closing at the end of the tour, Eastwood sums up the story by following Bradley’s son, James Bradley, as he tries to connect the dots and learn about that fateful day and the events that followed to use in his 2000 book that inspired the film.

By turning the story away from the battle and its aftermath, Eastwood disrupts his viewers’ attention, taking them out of the story.

For those who are truly interested in the history of World War II, “Fathers” is an excellent description and portrayal of the events, but, with the contrived ending of a man searching for clues to his father’s life, those who are just looking for a good, realistic World War II picture should stick with “Saving Private Ryan.