Those of you hoping for a jam-packed Special Edition of “Flags of Our Fathers” will be disappointed, since DreamWorks only included the movie on this DVD. They didn’t even throw in a commentary track, or the trailer. Of course, this film is worthy of in-depth treatment, so I imagine a two-disc edition will find its way to store shelves eventually. Caveat emptor.
Yes, I deducted my customary half star from my rating, in light of the dearth of extras on this disc. I suppose one could argue that it was better for DreamWorks to include nothing, rather than toss in a few by-the-numbers featurettes and then irritate buyers when they put out something more elaborate later, but I’m not going to violate my tradition. People will be irritated either way; I can’t imagine consumers are thrilled by purchasing the same movies over and over again.
So we’re left with the film itself. It certainly rewards repeat viewings, as the first hour or so is very disconcerting. Eastwood takes us from the present day back in time to 1945 and troops on their way to Iwo Jima, to three of the soldiers from the flag-raising standing before a cheering crowd, and then off to someone’s devastated parents back home, while the fighting was still going on. I found myself getting frustrated trying to match the present-day old guy with his younger self, and then trying to figure out which mother of a dead guy was crying.
The second half of the film settles down, though, and Eastwood jumps around with less frequency, giving us a chance to catch our breath and get to know the main players. I think the way he handled the first part of the story was his way of evoking how celebrity comes to us: We hear about a battle, and then the next thing you know, the media is giving us heroes to cheer for, without any idea of where these people came from, or whether they’re even worthy of the honor. If CNN had existed a couple thousand years ago, Wolf Blitzer would have been interviewing Achilles from the bow of his ship.
In the case of “Flags of Our Fathers,” we see that cheering crowd scene again later in the film, after we’ve come to know the back stories of the three men involved in it, and we get to see the sordid details behind what was to casual observers simply a patriotic display. I couldn’t help but think of Jessica Lynch’s “rescue” in Iraq during the second version of that scene. How ironic that, even during a war that most of us agree was the right fight for the United States, soldiers were pushed into the limelight against their will, much as Lynch was a couple years ago.
A story is presented by the military and the media sells it to us, pushing it and pushing it until some of us start thinking that something smells fishy. In the case of the flag-raising, rumors began to swirl that perhaps the incident was staged as a way to boost droopy spirits back home. We now know that wasn’t the case, but you can’t blame people in 1945 for wondering that, given how shamelessly those three men were paraded around the country.
In the end, we see that those three men were ordinary guys thrown into circumstances they couldn’t control, heroes simply because they avoided the horrific casualty rate on Iwo Jima and happened to be in the right place at the right time. In fact, when that iconic moment arrives in the movie, Eastwood presents it as a pain in the a*s for the men involved, the result of military wrangling over who would keep the first flag that was raised. Little did any of them know that such a simple act would become a rallying cry for an American public that had grown weary of the toll the war had taken on them. Of course, the big difference between then and now is that it helps to get involved in a war that made sense in the first place — you have a much easier time keeping people focused on the task at hand if they understand why they should support the effort.