N.Y. Times staff writers David Halbfinger and Allison Hope Weiner — sniffing around for a story after last week’s news that attorney Bert Fields will skate in the Anthony Pellicano wiretapping prosecution — have gone after Clint Eastwood‘s Flags of Our Fathers for not making more money last weekend.

Earning a meager $10.2 million on 1800 screens — described as “a relatively tiny beachhead that did not match expectations or its mostly strong reviews” — means casting a moderately negative light on the fact that Paramount is now going to have to spend a shitload on their Flags Oscar campaign to keep it in the game because industry folk sometimes dismiss would-be Best Picture contenders if they don’t connect strongly with the paying public.
This isn’t one of those the-ship-has-been-hit-by-a-torpedo stories. Nobody’s yelling “general quarters!” It’s more in the realm of a do-we-have-enough-fuel-to-make- it-to-port-without-having-to-row? stories.
Halbfinger and Weiner are too immersed in their usual airs of circumspect Times– ian posturing to be blunt about it, but their story’s bottom-line verdict is this: a weak box-office means that even if Flags winds up with a Best Picture nomination (which may well happen due to the wide respect enjoyed by Eastwood), forget the Big Win. This movie is not Million Dollar Baby and Clint’s already got two Best Picture Oscars. Spread it around.
Flags is listing somewhat because — hello? — the core audience appears to be over-40 boomer males and because it’s not getting much support from the under-30s, who aren’t exactly flocking to it, probably because they think it’s too old-guyish or lacking a certain 21st century visual vitality, or perhaps because they feel it’s overly thoughtful and meditative and we don’t want too much of that shit weighing us down, right?
A lot of HE readers responded to Peter Howell‘s observation last Saturday about older people constituting the bulk of the audience at a Toronto screening he attended, and…well, c’mon, the idea that young people aren’t digging it that much or even giving it a shot seems fairly obvious to me. But Halbfinger and Weiner barely mention the age/generation factor. They breathe on it but that’s all.

They mainly stay in their own comfort zone and ask whether or not Flags could have opened on an earlier or later date, and mention that a lack of big-name stars probably didn’t help, and that the glowing reviews didn’t seem to help much. They also quote Paramount distribution chief Rob Moore as suggesting that if anything goes wrong, it’s Clint’s fault because he was running the show all along. (Remem- ber Charles Grodin pointing to Dyan Cannon at the end of Heaven Can Wait and shouting, “She did it! She did it!”?)
Their best quote is from DreamWorks marketer and Oscar strategist Terry Press, who, according to Halbfinger and Weiner, believes that “the film’s reviews hold out hope that, once the movie makes it to December, it could wind up on the year’s- best lists and start piling up the kind of accolades that might prompt moviegoers to give it another look.”
“When you have that level of respect, you have to go the distance here,” Press says. “There is no other choice for a movie like this but to go the distance.” That is one thing this movie has in spades, even from mixed-reaction types like myself — respect. That in itself may provide the necessary fuel.