FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS * * * *
Cert 15, 132 mins
A single photograph can, we're told, win or lose a war. The image of a Viet Cong prisoner having his brains blown out was the final nail in the Vietnam coffin whereas the picture of six unidentified soldiers raising the Stars and Stripes during the bloody 40 day battle for Iwo Jima rallied a demoralised America to victory in the Pacific.
But the story behind the photo is much more complex. It wasn't even the first flag to be raised, that was commandeered as a souvenir by a Navy officer. It was the replacement that was snapped on the hoof by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, and the men who hoisted it became the official heroes, shipped home to become fund raising poster boys.
However, even here the facts are muddy. Within days, three of the six had already been killed, and, wanting to remain behind to fight, Native American infantryman Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) initially insisted he wasn't one of the survivors. Reports as to who was in the photograph became confused. One soldier was credited when he didn't take part, another who did was ignored.
Back home, Hayes, Navy medic John 'Doc' Bradley (Ryan Phillippe) and army runner Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) were thrown into a whirlwind of propaganda appearances, required to deliver inspirational speeches about buying bonds and take part in publicity stunt re-enactments.
All felt deep reservations about being feted as heroes when, to their thinking, the real heroes were the dead back on Iwo Jima. Already having to endure condescension and casual racism, it hit Hayes the hardest, taking refuge from his guilt, anger and shame in alcohol.
Directed by Clint Eastwood and co-written by his Million Dollar Baby Oscar winner Paul Haggis, it's adapted from the book James Bradley wrote about his father's wartime experiences.
Structurally, this presents something of a problem; mixing together contemporary scenes of his father's recurring nightmares and his son's interviews with other veterans, with flashbacks to both the promo tour and, up there with Saving Private Ryan for graphic carnage, the battle for Iwo Jima itself. There's a marvellous scene where Eastwood merges both, but there are times when the narrative switches leave you wondering quite where you are.
Whatever its flaws, this is a dynamically intense, powerfully acted, and provocatively thoughtful meditation on notions of heroism and the effects it has on those forced to wear the badge, especially once their moment has passed.
Eastwood's simultaneously filmed companion piece Iwo Jima, showing the same battle from the Japanese perspective, opens here next year; both likely to contend for Best Director and Film in the upcoming Oscar nominations. Martin Scorsese must be feeling a sick sense of deja vu.
Cert PG, 88 mins
As if inflicting The Santa Clause 3 on the world wasn't crime enough, here's Tim Allen with what's probably the worst superhero movie ever made.
A lame variation on Sky High, it involves embittered washed-up Captain Zoom (Allen) being forcibly dragged out of retirement by a monomaniacal general (Rip Torn) to reluctantly train a new group of young misfits (Spencer Breslin, Kate Mara, Michael Cassidy, Ryan Newman) with special (er, no) powers.
Neither they nor he realise the purpose is to take on super-villain Concussion (Kevin Zegers) who, 30 years earlier, affected by the General's power-boosting radiation, killed his fellow team members before being sucked into another dimension. He also happens to be Zoom's brother.
The scrappy plot – mostly dull training/bonding montages – barely warrants synopsis, but suffice to say Zoom slowly comes to warm to his charges and, with the help of geeky psychologist Marsha (Courteney Cox), sets out to keep then from harm at the hands of either Concussion or the General.
It looks cheap, it lacks charm, the dialogue's dreadful and Cox is required to fall over every other scene. Avoid like kryptonite.