City Beat’s Andy Klein has suggested that Clint Eastwood‘s Flags of Our Fathers is “The Americanization of Emily without jokes.” That sounds like a smart-ass thing to say but it’s not. Okay, it is somewhat, but not really. I happen to love and respect the latter film, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Arthur Hiller, and I feel the analogy is valid, although obviously only in the broad strokes.
Both films are essentially about the fraudulence that goes into selling war to the public, and how the lies and the bullshit role-playing weigh upon the souls of U.S. military men who are ordered by higher-ups to play the role of p.r. spokes- persons.
And both are about the power of a single combat photo to advance and strengthen the agenda of the U.S. military, and about how this photo, when published in just every newspaper and magazine in America, amounts to a visual distillation of the fakery involved, and how the men in these photos — a London-based Naval Lieu- tenant played by James Garner in Emily, and two Marines and a sailor played by Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford and Ryan Phillippe in Flags — are repulsed by the charade, even though all but one decide in the end to swallow this feeling and move on.
The hard fact is that The Americanization of Emily is more succinct that Flags of Our Fathers in making these points. It is also spunkier and more persuasive. I respect Flags — Eastwood has made a war film that says something solemn and truthful about the men who are forced or persuaded to fight our nation’s enemies — but I like Emily more.
Very different films, separated in almost every stylistic way imaginable…but pushing very similar talking points
Come to think of it, I might have felt more supportive of Flags if one of the three guys had been a cynical wiseacre like Garner’s Charley Madison and if he’d mouthed off all through the film’s war-bond tour with irreverent Chayefsky zingers about the guilt he was feeling and the absurdity of selling war as a noble activity, etc. At least it would add a little seasoning from time to time.