Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by:William Broyles Jr, Paul Haggis
Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Hickey, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker, Robert Patrick, Neal McDonough
Released: November 2, 2006
Grade: A

On the 23rd of February 1945, Joe Rosenthal took a simple black and white photograph.  It was of 6 soldiers raising the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.  This Pulitzer Prize winning photo has become one of the most famous images of all time.  At the Marine Corps War Memorial in Virginia, you can find a 30 metre high bronze statue (dedicated by President Eisenhower) which is an exact replica.

John “Doc” Bradley was one of the six men in that photograph.  After passing away in 1994, his son uncovered boxes of World War II memorabilia left in his father’s house.  James Bradley was amazed by what he found but couldn’t understand why his dad never mentioned his time on Iwo Jima.  He needed to know more.  After tracking down the family members of the other five soldiers in the photo, James was inspired to write a book about his father’s role in the war and the flag raising itself.

First published in 2000, James’s novel grabbed the attention of director Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby) and screenwriters Paul Haggis (Crash) and William Broyles Jr (Apollo 13).  Together, they have adapted it for the big screen.

Every time a new war film is released, I can’t help but think that I’ve seen it all before.  More often than not, I am wrong.  It’s hard to believe how many tales (both inspiring and disheartening) have come out of World War II.  It was, without doubt, the most significant event of the 20th Century and it is no wonder that cinematic storytellers are drawn to it.

Clint Eastwood’s film features some frighteningly dramatic action sequences but this isn’t its focus.  Rather, the movie looks at the three surviving soldiers from the infamous photograph and what happened in its aftermath.  John, Rene and Ira (played by Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford and Adam Beach) were paraded around the United States like heroes.  It lifted the spirits of the tiring public and encouraged them to invest in the government’s war bonds.

The intense media spotlight came with side effects.  Ira couldn’t understand how raising a flag made him a hero.  He felt guilty for leaving his comrades behind and longed to return to the battlefield.  Rene, on the other hand, loved being in front of the cameras.  He hoped to use the attention to kick-start a successful business career.  Falling somewhere in between was John.  The quiet John always put on a brave face but his mind had been scarred by the events from Iwo Jima.  The loss of his best friend, Iggy (Bell), will forever torture him.

The film begins a little slowly and I’m not sure why the opening is so fragmented (with flashes back and forward in time).  Once it settles though, Flags Of Our Fathers becomes a very interesting motion picture.  It makes you think about the importance of heroes in dark times.  It makes you think about the power of a solitary image.  It makes you think about memories that can never be forgotten.

The emotional impact sinks in during the final 10 minutes.  The lose ends are tied together and we learn what became of the people involved.  I haven’t read James Bradley’s novel but this is one of the rare instances where the movie has motivated me to do so.  I need to know more.

Perhaps the most attention-grabbing fact about the movie is that in February 2007, Eastwood is releasing another film called Letters From Iwo Jima.  It is also based on the battle of Iwo Jima but instead, is told from the Japanese perspective.  It stars Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) and is based on the letters of Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the commander of the Japanese army.  I can’t remember this being done before but think it’s a wonderful idea.  Too often we forget that there are two sides to every war.