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Posted on Oct 24, 2006 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Flags of our Fathers – Movie Review

By Paul Glasser

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Flags of Our Fathers (directed by Clint Eastwood) presents the gritty and ugly truth of the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi.

To Marines on Iwo Jima and to citizens on the home front, the flag became a beacon of hope. The iconic image was captured by photographer Joe Rosenthal and was splashed across the front page of hundreds of newspapers.

The film focuses on PFC Rene Gagnon (portrayed by Jesse Bradford), PFC Ira Hayes (portrayed by Adam Beach), and Navy Corpsman John Bradley (portrayed by Ryan Phillipe) who all helped plant the flag and survived the immediate aftermath. Three other Marines, Michael Strank, Harlon Block and Franklin Sousey were killed soon after the picture was taken.

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Hayes, Gagnon and Bradley area hailed as heroes and reluctantly agree to go on a war bond tour to raise money for the war effort. The film tells the story of the three surviving soldiers in a series of flashbacks, using audio and visual cues to transition between the home front and the battlefield of Iwo Jima.

The harsh contrast between the two environments is readily apparent to the viewer. Iwo Jima is a barren spot, with only scorched tree stumps and black volcanic ash for scenery. Most of the combat engagements are filmed in low-color saturation to create a dark and gritty appearance. On the other hand, the home front is brightly-lit, with lots of red, white and blue flags.

Although somewhat naïve at first, the Marines are quickly thrust into combat on the beaches of Iwo Jima and discover the harsh reality of war. Thousands of soldiers clog the beaches as amphibious transports deliver men and material for the invasion force. Jeeps and tanks bog down in the loose volcanic sand. Artillery and mortar crews are forced to set up improvised fighting positions, adding to the chaos on the beach.

But, tension mounts as the first scouts fan out across the black beaches. Foreboding music plays in the background as the Marines advance towards cleverly disguised bunkers and gun pits. Dread and anticipation increase the longer the Japanese hold their fire.

Suddenly, the tension is unleashed as the brutal assault begins. Marines dive for cover as Japanese machine-guns, mortars and artillery deliver a barrage of fire. Death comes quickly and brutally to the Marines as they struggle to advance.

On the other hand, the jubilant home front is in sharp contrast to the brutal mission on Iwo Jima. Brass bands, adoring fans and reporters mob the three flag-raisers as they tour America.

The ugly truth of the situation also becomes apparent as the soldiers struggle to come to terms with their reality. Hank Hansen has been misidentified as Harlon Block, but military officers and politicians conspire to maintain the patriotic façade. Tension builds among the trio of survivors too, as personalities clash. Beach gives an outstanding performance, portraying the tortured and persecuted Hayes, who was a Native American, with raw human emotion.

The iconic image is always present on the home front, hanging over the soldier’s heads throughout the war bond drive. The men can’t escape their own fame either, even when they duck into the basement kitchen of a hotel.

The situation is only made worse when reporters hound the soldiers, asking them if the picture was staged.

The conclusion was the only part of the film that could have been improved upon. The film drags on for about 20 minutes, detailing the fates of Gagnon, Hayes and Bradley, who are tormented by their experiences for the rest of their lives.

A final intimate moment comes as the credits roll down the right side of the screen and a series of photos from Iwo Jima are displayed on the left side. The pictures show how closely the movie captured the essence of life and death on Iwo Jima.

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