Flags of Our Fathers
2006: Clint Eastwood
Rated R – 132 minutes
Vault Rating: 7
Ya gotta sell a war.
Nothing has ever been more true about the making of war but less true about the making of war movies than that. When countries go to war, the propaganda always hits the fan, but today’s movie is one of the few of the genre to acknowledge this fact.
Based on the memoir of the same name by James Bradley and Ron Powers, “Flags of Our Fathers” examines the iconic image of the World War II flag raising at Iwo Jima and how that image was used to help fund the war effort.
The film examines the bloody battle for Iwo as the backdrop to stateside action where the “flag raisers of Iwo Jima” are set up as heroes and sent on a barnstorming mission to sell bonds. Meanwhile several myths are exploded and trivialities are explored.
The first curiosity here is that the picture of the flag raising was actually the second flag raising on Iwo. The first flag was replaced, which led to a hushed up controversy about who was actually in the famous photograph. The film dwells for short moments on the fate of the actual (first) flag and on the nature of the photographer who took the iconic shot.
After the photograph rocketed around the world, the U.S. military chose its heroes of Iwo Jima, removed them from the front lines, and sent them on a stateside fundraising tour. There is a classic case of survivor’s guilt portrayed here as one of the heroes stays drunk until they send him back to his unit in the Pacific.
What sets Clint Eastwood’s film apart from the typical war film is its honesty and setting straight of the record, it’s realization that war is sometimes a game built on lies.
When compared to, say, “Saving Private Ryan,” I’d have to say “Flags” fares well in comparison because of this honesty. “Ryan” was an exceptional film because the first 30 minutes took the viewer into the hell that was the invasion at Normandy. Never before has film captured so perfectly the chaotic truth of war. Veterans of that invasion were moved to tears at the sight of the first 30 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.” I gained a new perspective on World War II as I ducked bullets in the theater.
But the truth of that film is that it is saved by the opening half hour. The rest of “Saving Private Ryan” amounts to Tom Hanks running around in a John Wayne movie plot. “Flags of Our Fathers” isn’t as heroic as all that. The truth is never as glamorous as we would like to believe.
And that is the single reward of Clint Eastwood’s film, the print of which is wrung dry of almost all of its color. The truth is less vivid. Less heroic. Less colorful.
It should be noted that Eastwood’s companion film, “Letters from Iwo Jima,” which examined Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective was also nominated for several Oscars including best Foreign Language Film. Vault has not had the pleasure of “Letters” yet but imagines that the two films might best be seen back to back. Seldom do our war stories consider the story of the soldiers on the other side as honorable or heroic as well.
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