Movie Review: Clint Eastwood’s ‘Flags of our Fathers’ an iconic tribute

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Clint Eastwood´s Flags of our Fathers is a somber, heartfelt, beautifully rendered meditation on heroism and the politics of war.

Though not the epic, definitive tale of the Battle of Iwo Jima that some may expect, the film´s true ambitions lie in telling a more focused story: one of a famous photograph, the soldiers that appear in it, and the politicians who use said photo and soldiers to promote a war.

Technically flawless, with wonderful set design, composition, and cinematography, and a low-key score composed by the director. Icelandic beaches, complete with black sand, stand in nicely for Iwo Jima to memorably re-create the battle.

Five days into the Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the most famous of WWII, a small group of soldiers plant a US flag on top of a summit in defiance of Japanese forces. Soon after, another group of soldiers erects a larger, replacement flag on the same summit, as AP photographer Joe Rosenthal shoots it. The photo instantly becomes iconic, appearing on front pages across the US, and the men in the photo (though mostly unrecognizable) become heroes.

After the war, the three surviving men from the photo are used by politicians to help raise money for the war effort, through speaking at public functions or planting yet another flag in a papier-mâché summit at a football stadium. Each of the men (Ryan Phillipe, Adam Beach, and Jesse Bradford) deals with their newfound ‘heroism´ in different ways.

Though none of the characters are fully fleshed out, Beach is excellent as Ira Hayes, a Native American who must deal with casual racism both during the war and after; Hayes is a quiet, tortured individual who provides the heart of the film.

Minor complaints: the fractured story, while never uninteresting, can occasionally be less than compelling, and outside of the three central figures, we don´t get to know the other characters as well as we might want to; one almost wishes the film were longer and more straightforward.

But Flags of our Fathers is wonderfully filmed and presents its central themes with a quiet dignity, never becoming overbearing or overly sentimental. An intelligent and thought-provoking war movie.

Flags of Our Fathers

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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