The Flowers of War (2011)
Firstly, I am not familiar with the politics and the subsequent rows about the film and the labels of propaganda thrown at it, so I will not insult those that do know about this by trying to form an opinion on something I know nothing about. This review is based solely on the film itself. Any conclusions drawn therefore, are from what the film had to say, and nothing more.
The film concerns itself with the ransacking of Nanking in 1937 by the Japanese and the efforts of those present to protect themselves and others. It is not an easy film to sit through purely by nature of the subject matter and the actions of the Japanese army that it portrays, but it is something to behold nonetheless. The production values are outstanding, as is the cinematography. Visually, it is a stunning piece of work and no expense has been spared to make this as authentic as possible.
Christian Bale plays the part of travelling mortician John Miller, an American in Nanking at the time of the events. He is heading to the Cathedral, where he finds a helpless group of Chinese convent girls, fearful for their lives. Soon after, a group of prostitutes also arrive at the Cathedral, also seeking sanctuary. The needs of all of them are obvious, the need to get out of Nanking, away from the war, to safety. And it is to John, a white face that everyone knows the Japanese will not kill, even in this time of terror and bloody mayhem, that they turn for salvation.
But John is far from the Christian do-gooder that they were hoping for. He is too fond of his wine and his women to be concerned with the safety of those around him. He would not appear, initially at least, to be the beacon of light they all seek.
Bale is excellent here, as in most things of extremes that he decides to turn his hand to. As seen in The Machinist and Rescue Dawn to name but two, he is an actor of method where appropriate and, love him or loathe him, he always delivers brilliant, riveting performances. This is no different. Bale revels in the unfortunate story, embellishing Miller's character with, by turns, palpable opportunism and stoic responsibility.
The acting by all is above average, in fact, and the script moves the story along at a sedate and even pace. The scenes of battle are as tragic as the moments of quiet contemplation in between are poignant and even as an onlooker, unaffected directly by this series of allegedly historical events, it is easy to imagine how this may be a difficult and uncomfortable project for those that have some vested inherited interest.
Weighing in at two and half hours, this is not for the impatient viewer, but sticking with it and giving it your full attention will ensure the message resonates long after the film is over. Compelling viewing.