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In 1945, the Marines attack twelve thousand Japaneses protecting the twenty square kilometers of the sacred Iwo Jima island in a very violent battle. When they reach the Mount Suribachi and six Marines raise their flag on the top, the picture becomes a symbol in a post Great Depression America. The government brings the three survivors to America to raise funds for war, bringing hope to desolate people, and making the three men heroes of the war. However, the traumatized trio has difficulty dealing with the image built by their superiors, sharing the heroism with their mates. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
What do you get when you cross an Academy Award winning director whose movies tend to follow the lives of individuals and their consequences of the violence around them, an award winning writer that deals with racism and the map of the human spirit and a producer that has a penchant for World War II history who is a master of telling epic stories on the widescreen canvas? Well, you get Clint Eastwood, Paul Haggis and Steven Spielberg who have teamed up for the first time to bring to the screen the new WWII story of the six soldiers who raised the American flag at Iwo Jima and became media heroes in the new film Flags of our Fathers.
Based on the true (and relatively unknown) story of six regular soldiers that raised the flag atop the isle of Iwo Jima and whose picture of the effort became synonymous with an impending victory of the war, Flags of our Fathers will be one of the most talked about films of 2006.
Flags of our Fathers follows the lives of three surviving members who raised the flag in 1945 atop Mount Suribachi and how the government used these three individuals and the media in an effort to spark interest in selling war bonds to the American public.
Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford and Adam Beach play John "Doc" Bradley, Rene Gagnon and Ira Hayes respectively. These three individuals were partly responsible for the second American flag raising on that graced newspapers and magazine covers all over the world.
If you caught it, I did write the 'second American flag raising'. A fact that it seemed not one of us in the packed pre-screening knew before the films closing credits. Six soldiers on the 5th day of the island's invasion planted the flag of infamy just seconds after the first flag was that was erected was taken down. As the picture made its circles in every American media outlet available, Bradley, Gagnon and Hayes were quickly sent packing back to the United States to be used in a cross country marketing campaign to drum up support for the troops spread out over Europe and Asia.
Not one of them believing they were true heroes, the three are persuaded to separate their reluctance from the necessity to boost morale with the American public and ask for funds to continue with the necessary production of tanks, grenades, guns and armor. The film then switches between their tours of sporting arenas and speaking engagements and flashbacks back to the horrors of the taking of the island in full vivid detail.
Flags of our Fathers is an important film, but unfortunately, not a stellar one. The battle scenes are very well done and show the chaotic atmosphere and pace that follows a ground war, but it's the relationship and the manipulation of public interest as used by the media that the movie hits home. In a time where America is fighting two separate wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with veterans of Vietnam still being paraded on CNN every evening news to discuss comparisons, Flags of our Fathers is important in that it shows how a single picture or event can change an entire opinion over an effort that will cost young men and women their lives.
But where Eastwood fails is in his attempt to drum up any emotional attachment to the three characters. Haggis does his Crash best to have us 'tisk' at the consistent barrage of racial epithets thrown towards Indian descent Ira Hayes, but Eastwood fails to weave this sympathy and the sympathy for those left behind on the beach into an emotional punch that will carry us to the voting polls in the awards season.
The biggest disappointment with Flags of our Fathers comes with the expectation that the three major players in the production bring to the table. Eastwood in particular has stemmed together three recent films The Forgiven, Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby that each dealt with a person of persons dealing with the emotional weight of violence that they were witness. The heavy handedness of Flags of our Fathers should be right up his wheelhouse. Add the brilliant writing experience and resume of Haggis and the movie should have been celluloid gold. Instead, we deal with waving veterans, moments of tenderness between the soldiers and the families of the dead they fought beside and the emotional burden of the horrors that surrounded them in combat without any tear tugging or tissue pulling on behalf of the experiencing movie watcher.
Flags of our Fathers was shot back-to-back with Letters from Iwo Jima which will shows the Japanese perspective of the battle and is scheduled for release in February 2007. While watching Flags of our Fathers, there are a few scenes that you can imagine being in the next years release and maybe that is where Eastwood and the gang lost their focus.
So why does Flags of our Fathers still get 3 ½ stars even though the comments seem so negative? Well, it is because what the film does right, it does extremely well. During the battle scenes you are transported to Iwo Jima and the chaos of the situation can be felt in how you inch towards the edge of your seats. The acting too is better than average, especially from Phillippe who might find himself along side wife Reese Witherspoon as an awards nominee come Christmas. Couple these pluses with the importance of revealing a true and important story to the mass audiences and the obvious comparisons with American war efforts at the time of print, and you have a film that will undoubtedly become one of Eastwoods most talked about films. Even if it wasn't one of his best.
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