I had some pictures to post with this post, but blogger is uber-lame and they wouldn’t upload. You’re all net-savvy enough to find some if you want to. Sorry.
It’s been said that it’s impossible to make an anti-war movie because the action will always be too exhilarating. But it’s also been said that any war movie worth it’s salt will be an anti-war movie, simply by showing the brutality of war on a realistic scale. However, more important than whether either or both of these statements are true, a good war movie should tell the truth. The truth about war is, or should, be enough to give anyone a moments pause. Flags of Our Fathers is such a film.
If you are at all a regular reader of the Life of Ando, you should at least be partially acquainted with the Battle of Iwo Jima. (If not click here and/or here.) That being the case, there’s no real need to rehash what has already been said. You should know that the battle was fierce and bloody and the photo taken of the American flag being raised on Mt. Suribachi was more significant than the actual raising itself, if not for the Marines who were on that sulfur island, but to the folks back home.
The movie jumps back and forth between three different time periods: the battle, the War Bond tour, and to modern times. The transitions are made deftly in most cases, and the viewer, along with the characters, often can’t tell at first if these are the sounds of battle we’re hearing, or the fireworks from a war bond tour stop. The battle scenes make up about a third of the movie. It’s natural for these to be compared to Saving Private Ryan, which set the gold standard for modern WWII movie combat, and while Flags doesn’t really offer anything really, the scenes hold up very well and fetch plenty of impact.
Most of the movie focus on the Mighty 7th war bond tour which had the three surviving flag-raisers, John Bradley, played by Ryan Phillippe, Rene Gagnon, played by Jesse Bradford, and Ira Hayes, played by Adam Beach, hoisting flags and making pitches for folks to buy bonds to support the war effort all over the country. The movies does a good job a capturing the incongruity of the situation. The three are whisked back to the States at the behest of the President and are hailed as heroes for raising a flag, while their buddies are back on that island, or another one similar, still fighting and dying. The tour is exploitative in a way as the men are trotted out to baseball stadiums and Senators as the “heroes of Iwo Jima” for what they see as the insignificant act of putting up a replacement flag. But they realize that without the money raised from the bonds, the government won’t have the funds needed to continue and win the war. They do as they did back on that island, and sacrifice for the good of the country.
The performances are good overall with Beach turning in the best performance. Ira Hayes battled alcoholism on the bond tour and even for the rest of his life. Beach’s portrayal of Hayes as a tortured and smoldering man is spot on. Director Clint Eastwood did his best to cast actors as close to the actual ages of the Iwo Marines as possible, which was around 20 in most cases. This adds weight to the film as you see the young faces of these actors and realize that’s what most of the boys who saved the world in the 1940’s looked like. It makes quite an impact.
On the whole, the film making is excellent, with the only real weak spot toward the end. As Bradley, Gagnon, and Hayes climb up a pa pier mac he Mt. Suribachi at Soldier Field in Chicago to plant yet another flag, the noise and flashes of the fireworks spark flashbacks to the other three men in the flag-raising photo who never made it off the island alive. The scene still works, but it doesn’t flow as seamlessly as the other time-shift transitions in the movie.
The movie, like the book before it, brings to mind some interesting questions about what heroes are and what it is to be a hero. For Bradley, Gagnon, and Hayes this was a struggle that they dealt with for the rest of there lives, each in their own way. Which is some cases was tragic. There aren’t too many people with fully functioning mental capacities that will deny that WWII was a war well worth fighting. But even the noblest of fights carries a steep cost.
Flags of Our Fathers is rated R for the usual reasons associated with a war movie. The language is what you’d expect from Marines and there is plenty of blood and guts. If you do see it, don’t leave when the credits start or you’ll miss one of the most moving parts. While the credits run photos of the actual flag-raisers are shown as well as photos from the battle.