- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Director Clint Eastwood isn’t feeling lucky lately. The actor-turned-auteur’s “Flags of Our Fathers” is floundering at the box office. The film’s second-week total of $6.3 million placed it fourth on the weekly top 10 list. Its $19.9 million total as of yesterday means it has a long way to go to recoup its reported $90 million cost.

More important, it’s a rare financial misstep for the rejuvenated screen icon, an action star who found late-career critical favor as a director by dispelling the myths that his characters did so much to reinforce.

Normally, an adult-minded drama like “Flags” would have the field to itself. What person over 30 would choose “Grudge 2” over “Flags?”

However, the war movie is competing against a pair of solid contenders with even better pedigrees. Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” has more stars than an Oscar red carpet, and “The Prestige” offers a director with indie cred — Christopher Nolan — and a cast nearly as deep (Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson among them).

Perhaps the content of “Flags” is to blame. The film follows the soldiers who hoisted the American flag so memorably in the waning days of World War II’s Iwo Jima campaign. It’s hardly a rah-rah war movie, though. “Flags” explores the bitterness felt by the soldiers who subsequently were used, or pimped out as Mr. Eastwood’s story sees it, by the U.S. government to sell war bonds.

Mr. Eastwood’s last two movies, “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby,” didn’t open to booming box office but endured thanks to critical acclaim and consumer acceptance. “Flags,” however, bowed in October, and the battery of Oscar hopefuls has only just begun. By the time “Flags” finds its footing, it could be crowded out by any number of prestige projects, from “Dreamgirls” to “The Good German.”

Things could get worse for the two-time Oscar winner. Mr. Eastwood directed a companion film, “Letters From Iwo Jima,” which is to come out in select markets by year’s end and in the District in early 2007. That film views the Iwo Jima battle from the Japanese perspective. Audiences may recognize such “Flags” stars as Ryan Phillippe (“Crash”) and Barry Pepper (HBO’s “61”), but they won’t know anyone from “Iwo Jima,” save, perhaps, Ken Watanabe (“The Last Samurai”).

With depressing headlines swirling around the spiraling violence in Iraq, the last thing moviegoers may want to see is anything close to a sympathetic portrait of an earlier enemy.

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