Clint Eastwood's latest project is a film of epic scope and personal implications and is sure to stir memories in many people. It's a story that is too big for one movie. The movie that is now gracing the big screen tells one side of the story, but there is another side, and it will be told in another film.
Flags of Our Fathers, a touching film that pulls no punches, uses the famous photograph of the soldiers raising the flag as the lynchpin of the film to amazing emotional strength. This will be followed by Letters from Iwo Jima, slated for release February 7, 2007. That film will look at the battle from the Japanese perspective and will star Ken Watanabe (Batman Begins, The Last Samurai, Tampopo).
As interested as I was in the project, I did enter with a little reluctance. Somehow, I got the crazy idea this would end up being an over sentimentalized examination of the battle. Honestly, I do not know where that thought came from, or how it became so ingrained shortly before I bought my ticket. I went in thinking that I was going to be let down, and the opening of the film seemed to confirm those suspicions. Fortunately, I needn't have worried as the film became a powerful look into the tragic and lasting affects that war have. Eastwood and screenwriters William Broyles Jr. and Paul Hagis (based on the book by Ron Powers and James Bradley) walk the fine line between the emotion of looking back and the true horrors of being there.
Flags of Our Fathers is framed with the son of one of the men in the photograph speaking with those men who served with his father. He is writing the story of their experiences, and the film is the flashbacks to that time. We are told of the significance of that photograph of six US soldiers lifting that flag, and how each of those people back home would put their own story to it.
We follow a group of soldiers into the battle, landing on the beach following the salvo of shells fired from the ships onto the island in hopes of taking out the big guns. Those are excruciating moments of the soldiers moving inland just before the battle begins on land. We get a long battle sequence, I believe it runs for about a half hour but I hadn't checked the time. The battle is brutal, bloody, and very emotional.
Following the battle, we settle into a story that focuses on John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillipe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), the three surviving of the six that held the flag. The three of them are flown home to be used in a PR campaign to get people to purchase war bonds to support the ongoing war effort.