Flags of Our Fathers is one of Clint Eastwood’s finest films. It’s a study in the horrors of war; the value of propaganda, and the effects of each on both the soldiers at the front and the folks back home. It’s also a study in "the ends justifying the means" – and that makes it both doubly harrowing to watch, and doubly rewarding for its audience.
Flags of Our Fathers adapts the book by Bradley [with Ron Powers] in an unusual manner. It opens with the elderly John "Doc" Bradley [George Grizzard] calling for "Iggy" as he collapses on the stairs in his home; shifts to the events leading up to his unit’s arrival on Iwo Jima – and the bloody battle that began there – and then shifts to the War Bonds drive in which the young Bradley [Ryan Phillippe], Rene Gagnon [Jesse Bradford] and Ira Hayes [Adam Beach] were drafted to play the part of "The Heroes of Iwo Jima."
As the drive progresses, the film flashes back to various events of their time on Iwo Jima – the feeling is that of battle fatigued soldiers having flashbacks, and it adds greater depth to their various reactions on the drive: Bradley’s stoic determination to do the job; Gagnon’s playing the publicity to make contacts for after the war; Hayes’ retreat into the bottle. We learn that the flag-raising photo is not only an accident, but that it was the second such raising – and, more importantly, we learn why…
Eastwood’s direction is as sure-footed as a mountain goat and as subtle as a Gurkha guerilla. At no time do any of the film’s events seem staged, or calculated [except where such calculation plays a part in the story – as when the decision is made to use the photo of the second flag-raising as a rallying point for the American public]. Several performances were of Academy Award-winning quality.
While Flags of Our Fathers provides a look at the nature of, and necessity for propaganda, it also makes it clear that it is a weapon – no less than a rifle, or a bomb – and is often used even more ruthlessly. On the other hand, the film also shows how properly used propaganda can inspire – and make mad.
The screenplay, co-written by William Broyles Jr. and Oscar®-winner, Paul Haggis, manages to also convey the horrors of war – for both sides [though we see very few Japanese soldiers over the film’s slightly more than two-hour running time]. It also does a very nice job of depicting how the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo turned around the financing of the war – and the inspiring effect it had on the American public in general.
Flags of Our Fathers is an important film, though the modest Eastwood might not want to say so in those exact words. It is a reminder that genuine wartime sacrifice is not exclusively the realm of soldiers in the field; that propaganda, even when it’s necessary and effective, can hurt as many people as it helps; that there are two sides to everything – and sometimes, both are valid.
Features include: a five-minute Introduction by Clint Eastwood; Six Brave Men – a featurette biographing the six men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima; The Making of An Epic; Raising The Flag – how the raising of the flag affected the actors who recreated the event for the film; Words on The Page – adapting the boo into a script; Looking Into The Past – just over nine minutes of WWII film footage from Iwo Jima and two newsreels featuring the survivors of the flag-raising as they toured America on the War Bonds drive; Visual Effects – a look at the creation of the film’s photo-realistic visual effects; the Theatrical Trailer.
Grade – Flags of Our Father: A
Grade – Features: A-
Final Grade: A
Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted 05-28-07