Anthony's Film Review
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
An emotional in-depth look at a defining moment in American history...
Clint Eastwood directed both Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima as complementary films to show both sides of the famous World War II battle on Iwo Jima. Any war movie has the potential to tell a great story. However, the best way to appreciate the details of a war or other historical event is to see it from all sides. It would be a matter of time before some filmmaker would come up with the idea of making two concurrent films about the same war. Clint Eastwood stepped in to do so, and I think what he did was very clever.
Flags of Our Fathers chronicles the American side of the Battle of Iwo Jima. It specifically centers on the historical photograph of soldiers raising the American flag on the Japanese island and the moments these flag-raisers experienced during and after the war. The film doesn't just repeat what a history textbook would show. It goes beyond it, providing more insight into who these men were. This is one of the film's many strong points.
These history-making soldiers include John Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), Hank Hansen (Paul Walker), Iggy Ignatowski (Jamie Bell), and Mike Strank (Barry Pepper). The film doesn't present much about who these men were before being shipped overseas, but that's OK. What's important is the sacrifice they would have to make. The moment they set foot on Iwo Jima, their only focus is engaging the enemy at any cost. The initial battle sequence is a very dramatic spectacle where enemy fire would come from anywhere at any time. Clearly, the war will not be easy.
The story also features scenes of some of these men at home after the war. They depict a series of celebratory events that surround the now-famous Iwo Jima flag-raising photograph. There are so many Americans who cheer for these heroes. Yet, these "heroes" appear emotionally subdued. They can never forget the horrors of war. They know that war is nothing to cheer about. From this, it becomes clear that there is a striking contrast between these veterans and everyone else who never set foot on Iwo Jima.
Interestingly, these components are not presented chronologically. The film alternates between war scenes and post-war scenes and devotes a little more than half of the two-hour running time to the latter. The post-war scenes form the actual present-day story with the war scenes as flashbacks. Like Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter, Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers discusses war while turning its direct focus away from it. By contrasting two time periods, two locations, and two groups of people, the film illustrates the meaning of heroism. It is a personal and emotional sacrifice for the greater good. American soldiers do not return home feeling ecstatic about killing enemy soldiers. The glory of warfare is something only the rest of the American people perceive. This is also shown in scenes that reveal truths about the Iwo Jima flag photo that the flag-raisers know but everyone is too optimistic to see.
Directors of war movies are often associated with the specific wars they're portraying on film. For the Battle of Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood would certainly be the first one who comes to mind. He has directed a memorable cinematic portrait of a major time in American history. It has certainly helped me understand much better the men involved in that moment and what war is really about. Flags of Our Fathers is, no doubt, a masterpiece in my book.
For more information about Flags of Our Fathers, visit the Internet Movie Database.
In addition, check out my review of the complementary film Letters From Iwo Jima.