Flags of Our Fathers, the newest film from Clint Eastwood, is a great demonstration of the fact that good intentions don't necessarily mean good moviemaking. James Bradley and Ron Powers' book told the story of the six men who made for one the most memorable human images of World War II -- the famous photo of the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima -- and contrasted the battle for Mt. Suribachi with the hero-making that came after, as the three surviving soldiers were sent on a colossal bond drive to help finance the war effort. As John Slattery's natty, chatty Treasury man puts it to the servicemen, Marines Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) and Navy Corpsman John 'Doc' Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), "You fought for a mountain in the Pacific; now you'll fight for a mountain of cash." War is hell, and so is selling it.
I'm as tired of "The Greatest Generation" hero worship as the next person who isn't Tom Brokaw, but that's not at the heart of why I was so unmoved by Flags of Our Fathers. The problem with this film is not the story of Iwo Jima; Bradley and Powers' book is fascinating and rich. It's not Eastwood's direction, which is as artistically stately and technically accomplished as you might hope. The problem with Flags of Our Fathers -- driven through every moment in the film as decisively and fatally as a stake through the heart -- is the scripting of Paul Haggis. Haggis adapted Million Dollar Baby for Eastwood and then went on to co-write and direct Crash. Haggis has never met a familiar cliché or a rousing 'big moment' he didn't like, and Flags of Our Fathers is dripping with them. As the three men appear at a bond rally in Chicago, flashbulbs lead to flashbacks; as the photo hits the press, newsboys sell papers that come hurled off the back of trucks in bundles; a mother, convinced that her son appears uncredited in the Iwo Jima photo, swats away the suggestion she's mistaken: "Oh, that's Harlon ... I changed his diapers. ..."