FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS
In February 1945, one of the crucial battles of World War II - the US/Japan fight for the Western Pacific island of Iwo Jima - culminated with a simple photo that was to become an iconic image: five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi. The inspiring photo became a symbol of victory to a nation that had grown weary of war and it made instant heroes of the six soldiers, some of whom would die soon after, never knowing that they had been immortalized. The surviving flag raisers, including one black American, had no interest in being held up as symbols; they wanted to stay on the front with their brothers in arms who were fighting and dying without fanfare or glory.
Review by Louise Keller:
Clint Eastwood continues to surprise us with his latest work, a reflective war drama that takes a solitary event in Japan at the end of World War II as the means to explore the notion of what is a hero. Astutely crafted with monochromatic flashbacks to intense battle scenes, this powerfully layered film observes the futility of war, the hypocrisy of the government and the emptiness behind the heroism labels. Eastwood also explores the ugliness of media manipulation as he reveals the actual circumstances when the high profile, morale-boosting, flag-raising photograph was published. Based on a book written by the son of one of the men acclaimed as a hero, the film is hard-hitting, disturbing and profoundly moving, as it reopens history books and canvasses the human price of war.
There were six men who raised the American flag on the barren island of Mount Suribachi, which military strategist suggested looked a little like a burnt pork chop. The event was recorded for posterity by photographer Joe Rosenthal, who ironically quipped 'Ok guys who wants to be famous?' Three of the men survived, and were quickly snapped up by the war effort machine as pawns in a tawdry fund-raising campaign.
The heavy battle scenes (shot on the black beaches of Iceland) are frighteningly authentic, and we can understand the camaraderie between the young soldiers, as we dip in and out of three different time frames. Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford and Adam Beach (Windtalkers) play the three surviving soldiers with great sensitivity, but it's Beach as the American Indian with a drinking problem, whose plight touches us deepest. Honour and vulgarity sit side by side as the men are forced to re-enact the raising of the flag by climbing onto a man-made mountain of paper mache before an audience of thousands. Tacky reaches a new low at a splashy dinner where ice-cream moulded into six figures swim in blood-red strawberry sauce. Solid performances by the entire ensemble cast which includes Paul Walker, Jamie Bell and Barry Pepper, no doubt keen to work with Eastwood. Eastwood also composed the music: the modulations from major to minor keys are in synch with the film's ever-changing mood.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The gravitas and sensitivity that is wrapped around a nation's flag takes on extra firepower when that flag is at the centre of a wartime story involving morale, national psychology, bravery and endless corpses of young men shot and blown to pieces in savage battles. This true story, ferreted out by the son of one of the participants in the battle of Iwo Jima, is one that the American nation will never erase from its collective memory - and it's more complicated than it looks. For one thing, the one black soldier in the group suffered the ignominy of the racism of the day, no matter his official status as a hero.
The flag was raised as depicted, but for reasons of its historic military value, it was ordered to be taken down and replaced with another flag. The result had a disproportionate impact on the soldiers involved in both tasks - the original raising and the replacement. The war photographer who captured the second moment had the shot of the war - but he also caused some pain and suffering - inadvertently, of course.
Clint Eastwood has taken this sombre material and fashioned a complex, often moving and harrowing war drama, although it need not to have become so complicated in the telling. The story is complex enough, without the extra burden of confusion over the voices that are telling the story and the time switches from battle to post-battle to sometime well after the war.
But if you can stay alert and pick up enough threads, Flags of Our Fathers offers serious film lovers and earnest historians - not to mention fervent US nationalists - lots to engage with. Eastwood hones in on the bonds between soldiers at the front - in a way that's reminiscent of Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998). Superb effects blend seamlessly with strong war action footage, the cinematography is outstanding and Eastwood's own understated music together with performances from the excellent ensemble cast deliver a film of haunting power.
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FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (MA)
CAST: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, Paul Walker, Jamie Bell, Barry Pepper, John Benjamin Hickey
PRODUCER: Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Steven Spielberg
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
SCRIPT: William Broyles jr, Paul Haggis (novel by James Bradley with Ron Powers)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom Stern
EDITOR: Joel Cox
MUSIC: Clint Eastwood
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Henry Bumstead
RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 2, 2006