Weekend Forecast for October 20-22 2006

By Reagen Sulewski

October 20, 2006

Hugh Jackman had a few on-set demands for his co-workers.

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If The Departed was the first volley in this year's Oscar race, then this weekend's Flags Of Our Fathers is Clint Eastwood's attempt to make this year a repeat of 2004's campaign, where his and Martin Scorsese's films went head to head.

Eastwood's film is based on the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, and more specifically, the famous photo of the flag raising on the island, the first Japanese territory to fall to enemy hands. It follows the lives of the surviving three men who raised it as they return to America and deal with their fame (in some cases, unwanted) as a result of the photo.

World War II dramas can be hit and miss based on their pedigrees, but Eastwood's name as a director pushes this one front and center. The cast is solid if unspectacular, with Ryan Phillippe as one of the soldiers providing the biggest draw (also, Paul Walker gets his best ever shot at appearing in an Oscar-nominated film). In the case of this film, though, it's the famous story that's going to pull people in, in a similar fashion to another World War II epic, Saving Private Ryan (even if that was largely fictionalized past the opening).

It's an odd film in some ways, as it's less about the battle than the war at home, and how the photo and the soldiers were used to sell the war to a public that had seen little progress in the War in the Pacific to that point. Reviews of the film are politely positive, with many of the positive reviews saying that it's an ambitious movie about the nature of heroism that hits most, but not all of its marks. Negative reviews call it a boring history lesson. DreamWorks is testing the waters slowly with Flags of Our Fathers, releasing it this weekend in just over 1,800 theaters. However, with the publicity for the film in full steam, this should perform better than this count might indicate. Look for a weekend-topping figure of about $17 million.


Another potential Oscar candidate is Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, returning to the thriller genre after successfully relaunching the Batman franchise last summer. The year's second film with an emphasis on magic, Nolan reunites with Batman's Christian Bale and Michael Caine and adds Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson for a strong cast.

Jackman and Bale play rival magicians in early 20th century London. When Bale performs a truly mystifying and seemingly impossible trick, it becomes Jackman's obsession to figure it out, threatening to destroy the lives of everyone around him. As one would expect with a magic-themed film, the plot is a twisty-turny affair, and should be quite compelling for thrill seeking audiences.

Nolan has proved himself to be a top flight director, and Jackman's developed quite a bit of fame from the X-Men movies. However, a release in a modest 2,281 screens will keep a bit of a damper on the initial box office prospects of this film. Look for it to come in with about $14 million.

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