Home > Reviews > FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS – Clint Eastwood


October 20, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s interesting to see how the public perception of Clint Eastwood has changed over the years. In the 1950s he was a TV cowboy, familiar from series such as Rawhide. In the 1960s, he moved to the big screen, and became an icon through his roles in classic spaghetti westerns like A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good the Bad and the Ugly. In the 1970s he became a bona fide Hollywood star, with leading roles in box office smashes like Dirty Harry, The Enforcer, Magnum Force and Every Which Way But Loose. By the 1980s he had moved sideways into directing, and enjoyed significant success with Sudden Impact, Firefox, and Heartbreak Ridge. The last 20 years or so, though, have seen him emerge as a true cinematic artist and a beloved member of the film-making fraternity, with the acclaimed Unforgiven, The Bridges of Madison County, Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby.

The latest film to add to this admirable canon is Flags of Our Fathers, an epic war movie starring Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Benjamin Hickey, Jamie Bell and Robert Patrick. Set in the South Pacific at the height of World War II, it follows the fortunes of a group of soldiers fighting in the Battle of Iwo Jima in February and March 1945, and most notably chronicles the events leading up to and after the moment Ira Hayes (Beach), Franklin Sousley (Joseph Cross), John Bradley (Philipppe), Harlon Block (Benjamin Walker), Michael Strank (Pepper) and Rene Gagnon (Bradford) raised the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi – an event which was captured on film by photographer Joe Rosenthal, and which would go to become one of the most famous and iconic photographs ever taken.

Clint Eastwood the actor. Clint Eastwood the director. Clint Eastwood the producer. Clint Eastwood the composer. Given all his success in the three former categories, it is perhaps unsurprising that Eastwood can’t be brilliant at everything he does. For most of his career, Eastwood has relied on other composers – Dee Barton, John Williams, Jerry Fielding, Lennie Niehaus – to provide the music for his films. Eastwood has always been a huge music buff, most notably of jazz and blues, and played piano for many years, so when he started writing the main themes for his films in the 1990s, it was considered by many not to be an especially surprising move. However, when he wrote the score for Mystic River in 2003, it raised a few eyebrows. They ventured even higher when he picked up a Golden Globe nomination for Million Dollar Baby the following year. His style is very simple – one-handed piano melodies fleshed out and orchestrated by Niehaus – and in certain circumstances, the subtlety and intimacy of Eastwood’s music can be very effective, as it was in Million Dollar Baby. For Flags of Our Fathers, though, the lack of scope and minimal emotional impact is a just little disappointing, even though the technical aspect of the music is fine, and some of the cues in and of themselves work well as standalone listening experiences.

The opening “The Photograph” is a slow and sombre affair for muted brasses and a bed of important-sounding strings, which has a certain nobility, but nothing to make it especially memorable or rousing. One would think that, considering the legendary nature of the photograph, and the events that surrounded it, something a little more stirring and patriotic would have been called for, but instead Eastwood is content to merely present his theme in a subdued, understated fashion. The film’s main theme first appears towards the end of “Wounded Marines”, and bears all the usual Eastwood musical hallmarks, being a simple piano melody, which gradually interpolates a solo trumpet element. As a piece of music in itself, it’s perfectly agreeable, but whether it’s an effective piece of film music is another matter entirely. It reappears in a slightly more fleshed-out form in “Goodbye Ira”, the quite lovely “The Medals”, and “Platoon Swims”, the closet Eastwood comes to reaching an emotional height. The two “End Titles” cues put the theme through different workouts: one featuring a sensitive acoustic guitar element which makes it sound like a long-lost cousin of ‘Claudia’s Theme’ from Unforgiven, the other concluding with an unaccompanied vocal performance by Eastwood, which is heartfelt but walks a fine line between haunting and hilarious.

Much of the rest of the score consists of dissonant textures and low-key action, some of which are quite interesting, such as the fluttery pan pipes and breathy flutes in “Wounded Marines” or the martial snare drums of “Armada Arrives”. Eastwood’s unexpected knack for writing quite effective dissonance is highlighted in “Inland Battle”, which makes more good use of a variety of unusual percussion effects and moody orchestral writing. How much of this is Eastwood’s own work and how much is Niehaus’s is unclear, but whatever the case may be this is surprisingly accomplished stuff, and even though the simplicity of it all may put some listeners off, you can’t criticise its authenticity or its effectiveness.

Also included on Milan’s album are a number of period source music tracks by John Philip Sousa and others, some of which were re-arranged by Eastwood’s son Kyle and re-recorded for this purpose, some of which are original recordings. In general, Flags of Our Fathers is a decent enough score, with a number of cues which hold the attention. It many not satisfy film score fans who crave non-stop action and rousing patriotic anthems played by a 3,000-piece orchestra, but when you consider who composed it, and when you think about the non-glamorous anti-war message he was trying to convey in his film, it’s well worth a listen.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • The Photograph (0:55)
  • I’ll Walk Alone (performed by Dinah Shore) (2:44)
  • Knock Knock (traditional, arr. Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens, Andrew McCormack and Graeme Flowers) (3:13)
  • Wounded Marines (4:38)
  • The Thunderer (John Philip Sousa, arr. Lennie Niehaus) (2:47)
  • Armada Arrives (3:49)
  • Goodbye Ira (0:51)
  • Symphony in G Minor, 3rd Movement (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arr. Lennie Niehaus) (3:49)
  • String Quartet Opus #6, 2nd Movement (Joseph Haydn, arr. Lennie Niehaus) (3:53)
  • Inland Battle (4:44)
  • Flag Raising (1:02)
  • Any Bonds Today? (Irving Berlin, arr. Lennie Niehaus) (2:39)
  • Summit Ridge Drive (performed by Artie Shaw and His Gramercy Five) (3:22)
  • Vict’ry Polka (Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, arr. Lennie Niehaus) (2:30)
  • The Medals (3:00)
  • Platoon Swims (3:14)
  • Washington Post March (John Philip Sousa, arr. Lennie Niehaus) (2:39)
  • Flags Theme (3:21)
  • End Titles (1:56)
  • End Titles Guitar (4:25)

Running Time: 59 minutes 31 seconds

Milan M2-36203 (2006)

Music composed by Clint Eastwood. Conducted by and orchestrated Lennie Niehaus. Recorded and mixed by Robert Fernandez. Album produced by Clint Eastwood.

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