Flags Of Our Fathers

2006, Movie, R, 130 mins


Adapted from James Bradley's best-selling book about the six flag-raisers of Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood's timely film is a smart and deeply moving deconstruction of heroism and the uses/abuses of war heroes. James Bradley's own father, Navy combat medic Jack Bradley, was attached to a U.S. Marine company dispatched to Iwo Jima, the site of one of WWII's bloodiest battles, in 1945. Bradley began his book as a means to understand his father's lifelong silence about the war, Iwo Jima and, above all, that photo. The film opens in the present, with James Bradley (Tom McCarthy) interviewing veterans of Iwo after his father's death, then flashes back to the grueling, cross-country war-bond tour the photo's three surviving flag-raisers — Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach, in an astonishing performance) — were pressured to join, and then to the horrifying battle itself and the flag-raisings — there were two — on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi. The astonishing photo of the second, replacement flag-raising appeared on newspaper front pages around the world, and instantly became one of the most reproduced photographs in history. A victorious image tailor-made to raise the spirits of a war-weary public, it was exploited by the nearly broke U.S. government as a way to raise the funds needed to win the war. Over the objections of the battle-shocked Hayes, already drinking heavily, and the survivors' assertion that the real heroes lay dead on Iwo's black-sand beaches, the Roosevelt administration hails the flag-raisers as heroes and puts them on the war-bond trail. Within weeks of the actual battle, the tragedy of Iwo Jima is replayed as farce: Bradley, Gagnon and a drunken Hayes are forced to re-create the famous moment atop papier-mache hilltops in cheering stadiums, and the famous image is repurposed for posters, statues, even a dessert. Meanwhile, as rumors begin circulating that the flag-raisers were misidentified — only Bradley's face is clearly visible — and the whole scene staged, Hayes, Gagnon and Bradley find themselves trapped, unable to return either to the war they had committed themselves to fight, or to ordinary civilian life. Eastwood and writers Paul Haggis (MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CRASH) and William Broyles Jr's decision to employ such a complex flashback structure is deliberate: Their film resists turning the battle of Iwo Jima into yet another simulated event and its men into movie heroes all over again, though their strategy also makes the battle's details difficult to follow. Nevertheless, this is a powerful, important and, in the end, profoundly poignant movie dedicated to the lives of men and women who fight wars and shoulder the burden of becoming "heroes" to help the rest of us make sense of what remains incomprehensible. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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Flags Of Our Fathers
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