Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

The days of the 'Flying Leathernecks' and 'The Sands of Iwo Jima' are long long gone.  Long gone.  With 'Saving Private Ryan', 'Enemy at the Gates' and now 'Flags of our Fathers', whatever romantic visions that films of the 40's and the 50's hoped to inject into the war movies of those times has been dashed on the rocks of the realism of today’s present war films.  'War is Hell' isn't simply a majestic quote from some grizzled dude in a black and white film with his head held high, It's the literal truth.  Heads are blown off, limbs are severed, death is everywhere, and the smell I’m told is the worst.  This is just what, as a soldier, that you see.  More pressing and most important is what, as a soldier, you must become to survive.  When it's all said and done you are wholly expected to come back home and integrate yourself seamlessly back into society.  Clint Eastwood's latest epic 'Flags of our Fathers' on the surface is about the events surrounding the classic photograph of six American soldiers raising the American Flag on the rock of Iwo Jima during World War II, but it is also about the horrors of war, the effect it has on those in it and the difficulty of trying to live normally after experiencing it.

Ryan Phillipe is Doc Bradley, a young WWII army medic who along with Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) are the three survivors of the men who helped raise the flag for that legendary photograph.  The events surrounding the flag raising aren’t nearly as dramatic as the photo itself which was a fairly rudimentary gesture at the time.  During this time of the war though, citizens were weary, too many lives were being lost, morale was low and the country was bankrupt.  Once this lone photo was published it gave hope and the government hoped to exploit

it to its maximum by recalling the three surviving soldiers back to the states to parade them as symbols of a war that was being won, but mainly to put them on a tour to raise money through the purchasing of war bonds.

The film cuts in-between the three young men dealing with the pressure of being hailed as heroes through the war bond tour and the actual battles on Iwo Jima.  One the bloodiest most brutal campaigns in the history of modern warfare, of 20,000 Japanese troops entrenched in defending the rock, 18,000 of them was estimated killed.  7000 American soldiers lost their lives with over 20,000 wounded.   Eastwood shot these battles with a stark brutal violence that I don’t think has ever been seen before.  Truly the crowning glory of what was an exceptional film were the realistic war sequences.  The sound was deafening, the imagery was shocking, and the tension created was palpable.  As horrible as the war scenes were, I think the film would have been even better with more of them.

The actual narrative of the struggles of adjusting to life outside of the war, was also very interesting, if not a little heavy handed and a bit preachy.  But Clint Eastwood as a director is truly a master story teller, achieving a level greatness eclipsing even his superstar film actor status.  Sorry Harry Callahan.

Adam Beach, who played the native American code breaker in the vastly inferior WWII film ‘Windtalkers’ can place that forgettable film squarely in his rear view mirror as he is able to ascend above the typical ‘drunk Indian’ stereotype with a stunning performance as the sensitively troubled Ira Hayes, who is most affected by what has seen during the war and has the most trouble dealing with life outside of the armed services.  His story is a tragic one, and the experience of war and the losses incurred by the families left behind is equally tragic and expressed solemnly in this important film during an important time.  My own father, a thirty year army veteran and Special Forces Green Beret during Vietnam will not discuss whatever he saw during those five years he spent in the Asian pacific.  Ever. 

So if you didn’t know, know you do.  War is Hell.  The decision to enter into one shouldn’t be entertained lightly and should only be done if absolutely necessary.  This is the message hammered away in ‘Flags of our Fathers’ and hopefully some attention will be paid to it.

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