By Leroy Douresseaux
March 3, 2007 - 13:51
The son, James Bradley (Tom McCarthy), knows that his father, John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), was in the famous photograph, "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima," which was taken by photographer Joe Rosenthal on February 23, 1945 and which became the most memorable photograph taking during WWII (as well as winning the Pulitzer Price for photography). The photograph depicted five Marines and one Navy Corpsman raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi on the tiny island of Iwo Jima, and "Doc" Bradley was that corpsman (medical personnel). The battle for that tiny speck of black sand, which was barely eight square miles, would prove to be the tipping point in the Pacific campaign against the Japanese during the war.
Through the recollections of the WWII vets, the son hears harrowing tales of Iwo Jima, and for the first time learns what his father went through there. The military later returns "Doc" Bradley and the two other surviving flag-raisers, Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) to the U.S. and where they trio becomes props in the governments' Seventh War Bond Drive. This particular bond drive is an attempt to raise desperately needed cash to finish fighting the war. However, Bradley, Gagnon, and Hayes are uncomfortable with their celebrity and find themselves at odds with being America's new heroes.
Flags of Our Fathers is the first of Clint Eastwood's unique two-film take on the war movie. The second film, Letters from Iwo Jima, depicts the Japanese side of the war. Flags runs hot and cool - hot when Eastwood keeps the film on Iwo Jima and cool when the flag-raisers are back in America and dealing with public situations that make them uncomfortable. The narrative, like Billy Pilgrim, the hero of Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five, becomes unstuck in time, dancing back in forth in the wartime and post-war past, with an occasional foray into the present.
Flags of Our Fathers is at its best when Eastwood focuses on Iwo Jima and the veterans nightmarish flashbacks, in particularly "Doc" Bradley's flashbacks while he's on the bond drive tour. He transforms the horrors of war into a taut thriller, in which the monster of violent death stalks the Marines on the battlefield. Eastwood also makes his point at certain times with beautiful subtlety. In one scene, Ira Hayes (played by Adam Beach who is, like Hayes, a Native American) is refused service at a restaurant because the owner "doesn't serve Indians." After all of Hayes' dedication, the routine bigotry he faces is stinging and heart-rending, and Eastwood captures that moment (and so many others where bigotry is as common as air) in an understated fashion that turns that quiet scene into a blunt object he slams into the viewer.
Flags is by no means perfect. It lacks any great performances, and Jesse Bradford and Beach can only deliver soft performances since their characters are so thin. "Doc" Bradley isn't a stronger character, but Ryan Phillippe jumps between that haunted look or playing stoic, which gives Bradley more traction in the narrative. Still, Flags of Our Fathers proves that Clint Eastwood is truly a great movie director, and that even his missteps here can't hide this engaging look at brotherhood on the battlefield and surviving after war.
2007 Academy Awards: 2 nominations: Best achievement in sound editing (Alan Robert Murray, Bub Asman) and Best achievement in sound mixing (John T. Reitz, David E. Campbell, Gregg Rudloff, and Walt Martin)
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