It is one of the most well-known and iconic images from World War II: a group of American soldiers planting the American flag on top of a mountain on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.
This striking image was laden with emotion and meaning. It was the first time ever that a foreign conqueror?s flag was hoisted on Japanese soil. The battle of Iwo Jima was the first WWII battle to be fought on Japanese territory (previous islands in the Pacific taken back by the Americans were actually ones merely occupied by the Japanese).
Fighting was bitter and hard. Ultimately about 30 000 lives would be sacrificed to protect / take a five mile long uninhabited island. Out of 22 000 Japanese defenders only slightly more than a thousand would survive. The Americans lost about 6000 soldiers in the month-long battle. (To put this in perspective: this is more than double the amount of casualties the Americans has thus far suffered in the war in Iraq.)
Director Clint Eastwood has mined this history-rich battle to make two movies, the first being 'Flags of the Fathers' and the other being 'Letters from Iwo Jima', which tells the conflict from the Japanese point-of-view.
'Flags of Our Fathers' tells the true story behind the famous flag-raising photograph, what really happened that day, what happened on the island and what happened to the soldiers in the photograph. Half of the soldiers in the pictures would be dead before the end of the battle of Iwo Jima; the other three would be shipped back home to mainland U.S.A., where they would be welcomed home as returning heroes, to become part of the U.S. wartime propaganda effort.
However, suffering from post-traumatic stress and survivor guilt, they didn?t particularly feel much like heroes. ?I can't take them calling me a hero. All I did was try not to get shot,? one of them remarks in the film. "But isn?t that what all soldiers do?" the movie asks the audience as it strips away the mythology surrounding the events of that fateful battle.
History Channel-types will find more to appreciate in 'Flags of Our Fathers' than most casual viewers. The film?s haphazard flashback narrative structure often makes it difficult to sustain dramatic interest and leaves the viewer confused for a large part of the film?s running time. Good luck trying to figure out who is who during the battle scenes which, otherwise, are well-done with some good computer-generated effects. And the fight scenes are quite realistic as well. But they lack the sheer visceral impact of the first twenty minutes of 'Saving Private Ryan', and the movie is at its best when it traces the fortunes of the various soldiers back in the States.
'Flags of Our Fathers' is still well worth the time though, and its appeal should extend beyond that of a dry history lesson.
Extras: For those History Channel types, the second disc of this DVD will be of some interest as director Eastwood, the author of the book on which the film is based and key cast members discuss the historical background to the movie.
Unlike most Hollywood epics, Eastwood seems to have gone to some pains to ensure the film?s historical accuracy (then again, that is the point behind the movie) and share his own reminiscences of the time. (Eastwood was too young to have fought in the war itself.)
Author James Bradley?s talk is particularly illuminating. After all, his father was one of the soldiers in the legendary photograph and he was inspired to write the book after his death. Interestingly his father never spoke about his wartime experiences to either his children or wife and Bradley had to piece together info for the book from other sources.
Also of interest are some historical footage and newsreels from the battle. Eastwood shot the battle scenes in a stylised overexposed blue palette, which is in rather stark contrast to the more real-life colours of the actual historical footage. (The battle scenes were shot in Finland, and not on the actual island.)