Flags of Our Fathers review by Tom Blain

Flags of Our Fathers tells the story behind the photograph of the men who raised the U.S. flag in Iwo Jima; the same photo thats in every U.S.History book under the section WORLD WAR II. It is interesting how a strong photograph can be and how it can be interpreted without knowledge of the context with which it was taken. If you simply look at the photo and see six soldiers setting this large U.S. flag at the top of a hill, the first word that comes to your mind is Victory, plain and simple. As an American kid growing up and learning about World War II some 50 years later through U.S. history classes this photo became synonymous with the final days of war. This must have been the final straw. This must be the moment after the Japanese and Germans surrendered. As Clint Eastwood shows in Flags of Our Fathers, the photo meant very much the same thing to a lot of Americans back even back then. He also shows that despite the meaning displaced on the photograph by the general public, the reality behind the photograph and the men in it was far different.

Of the six men who raised the flag that day in Iwo Jima only three survived the war. The others died in Iwo Jima days later. The flag was raised on the 3rd day of battle on the small Japanese sulfur island but the battle raged on for 30 more days. So clearly the victory it symbolized, even on the battle scale, was not achieved by the time it was taken. The three men who survived were John Doc Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach). As soon as the government found out about the photo, they immediately pulled the men out of the war and back to the states. Why? The picture had become a popular rallying cry, and the men in it were perceived as heroes. Politicians wanted the men back in the states to promote the war and to encourage people to buy war bonds, under the guise of victory tour.

The soldiers themselves carried some baggage. Bradley and Hayes both brought up that the government is burying some facts about the photo and twisting its representation. For example, there was a first flag placed in the same spot, victory was far away, and some of the men they claimed were in the photo were not really there. Any questions to the validity of the photo would lead to public speculation that the war wasnt going as well as it seemed, so all of them were ordered to straighten their story. During the tour, each of the three soldiers were haunted by individual images of the battles they took part in and the problems they faced. Bradley was a medic who did his best to save lives but almost always came up short. Hayes turned to alcohol and had problems accepting being called a hero after seeing so many good men around him die. Gagnon was being called a hero despite really never fighting in the war. So while they would smile and wave to an applauding crowd, or place a flag into a papier-mch hill, beneath the surface each soldier was dealing with his own problems.

When discussing modern war films, its always important to discuss the camera work and the battle scenes themselves. There is really one big battle scene (maybe 30 minutes in) and a few small flashbacks. The big battle scene where the U.S. soldiers enter Iwo Jimo is sensational. Its big, its beautiful, and at the same time very ugly and frighteningly realistic. The opening scene for Saving Private Ryan is definitely the new benchmark, at least for WWII scenes, and Flags of our Fathers certainly lives up to that. The only drawback is that it is not entirely original when compared to its predecessor. It seems like the scenes are nearly interchangeable, but still the scenes are technically amazing.

Flags of Our Fathers did a great job showing the struggles for post-war assimilation for war heroes who didnt consider themselves heroes. It also showed how the soldiers went from being pushed around by sergeants to being pushed around and used by politicians for war advertising. A lot of the movie echoed of The Best Years of Our Lives with some modern updates and war scenes. Where Best Years showed some WWII soldiers trying to assimilate to a normal family life, Flags shows these same types of soldiers struggling with their heroship in the publics eye. All in all, Flags of Our Fathers was another great feather in Clint Eastwoods impressive resume. Even in his 70s he seems to be putting out entertaining films with depth that many younger directors can still learn from.




8 out of 10 Jackasses
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