Running Time: 132 minutes.
Rated: Rated MA 15+: strong war violence.
On February 19th 1945 the U.S. Marine Corps' legendary Third, Fourth and Fifth divisions landed on Iwo Jima at 8:59 a.m. Iwo Jima was a desolate place of black sand beaches and sulfurous caves. They came up against 20,000 Japanese soliders who had buried themselves into the cliffs through an intricate series of dug-ins and trenches.
The ensuing battle lasted a month. In an early victory for the USA, eight men made it to the crest of the island's main hill in the first week. Led by Sgt. Mike Strank (Barry Pepper), the group comprised Marines Rene Gagnon (Bradford), Native American Ira Hayes (Beach), Hank Hansen (Paul Walker), Ralph "Iggy" Ignatowski (Jamie Bell), Harlan Block (Benjamin Walker) and Franklin Sousley (Joseph Cross) and John "Doc" Bradley (Phillippe), a Navy corpsman. When they ascended the hill they raised an American flag at the end of a pole.
Marine photoragrapher, Joe Rosenthal, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his picture and died in August this year, captured the image of six faceless men straining to lift that flagpole into place. This image raised the spirits of the battalions on the beach below, and inspired a dispirited nation back home. Every US paper ran the shot within days.
Seizing the PR advantage, the Government recalled the soldiers in the photograph to tour the USA and promote the latest War Bonds offer. Only three of the eight were still alive: Doc, Ira and Rene.
Amidst growing suspicions that the photograph was staged (it was, but only after the first flag was sequested by the Marine corps), dissension breaks out between the three survivors. This trio fights their own demons of alcoholism, racism, vanity and feeling a fraud, and there are ongoing debates about who made up the faceless six.
With Stephen Spielberg producing and Clint Eastwood directing, Flags of our Fathers is a highly accomplished film in almost every regard.
I will be very surpirsed if cinematoghraer Tom Stern, editor Joel Cox, art directors Jack G. Taylor Jr and Adrian Gorton, set designers Joseph G. Pacelli and Gorton, Gary A. Lee, sound designer Walt Martin, visual effects supervisor Michael Owens and costume designer Deborah Hopper are not nominated for Oscars for their superior work.
Comparisons to Saving Private Ryan are inevitable and justified. The landing on the beaches, the horror of the war injuries, and the grief of the families back home are intertexts between the two films.
As with Saving Private Ryan, viewers need to know that they are not spared anything in the graphic and realistic portrait of the battlefield.
The story of the photograph and its fall-out, in the short and long term, is an excellent structure around which to tell the tale of na