This week’s pick is Clint Eastwood’s World War II masterpiece Flags of Our Fathers that depicts the famous flag raising on Mt. Suribachi on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. The film stars Ryan Phillippe (Navy Corpman 2nd class John “Doc” Bradley), Jesse Bradford (Corporal Rene Gagnon), Paul Walker (Sgt. Hank Hansen), and Robert Patrick (Col. Chandler Johnson).
The film is told through a series of flash-forwards and flashbacks, through the three remaining men who were responsible for the flag raising which helped to raise America’s morale as the Pacific war raged on with no foreseeable end in sight. The seven Marines that are the focal point of the film begin their training at Camp Tarawa in Hawaii with mountain climbing and other P.T. drills.
As they set sail towards their destination, it is revealed that the target in question is the Japanese held island of Iwo Jima, which sits just seven hundred miles away from the Japanese mainland.
During a debriefing, the company commander, Captain Severance (McDonough) tells the men that they will meet stiff enemy resistance than ever before because Iwo is Japanese soil and its defenders will fight to the last man in order to prevent the Americans from gaining a closer foothold toward Japan.
The next day February 19th 1945, the men of the 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division enter their amphibious tractors and landing craft and head toward the beaches of Iwo Jima. A naval bombardment commences with gun and rocket fire which hit their targets inland from the beach. The men of the 28th Reg. 5th Marine Div. don’t realize that the Japanese have had months of preparation to turn Iwo into an impregnable fortress of tunnels, foxholes, pillboxes, and traps to make the Americans pay for every inch of the island.
The invasion sequence is amazingly shot. The men hit the beaches and are held up in front of a ridge. The men believe that the artillery barrage has killed the Japanese defenders. As the men of the platoon head inland, the Japanese strike with machine gun and artillery fire. Many Marines are killed and wounded, but the Marines begin to overrun the Japanese positions and wipe out the opposition.
As the Marines fight on, Japanese resistance begins to intensify. The men of the platoon begin to attack Mt. Suribachi, which supports numerous tunnel complexes and it is believed that most of the Japanese forces are operating out of that location. On February 23, Hank Hansen (Walker) and his squad trek up Suribachi to establish a phone communication.
Col. Johnson (Patrick) tells Hank to hoist an American flag once they reach the summit. Hank, and the other six men reach the top of the mountain and use an old piece of pipe to make a flagpole with. Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal arrives on the beachhead and marvels that the image of an American flag on the summit will mean a Marine Corp for the next five hundred years. Forrestal demands that he have the flag for himself.
Angered over such a demand from a politician, Col. Johnson demands that the original flag be taken down and replaced with another because the original flag belongs to the men of the regiment who have fought and died to take the island. The seven men in question stage the famous flag raising that was documented by combat photographer Joe Rosenthal and it became the most iconic image of World War II.
The photo and the exploits of the men in question captivate the American public who see the image on newspapers and magazines everywhere and the military uses this new publicity as a way to begin a seventh war bond drive in order to raise more money for the war effort. All but three of the Marines responsible for the raising of the flag in Rosenthal’s photograph have been killed. Bradley, Gagnon, and Hayes are brought back to the states to begin the bond drive and each man begins to question why they are considered heroes when the real heroes are the men who have died on Iwo.
Eastwood’s direction is flawless, which is no shock seeing that he learned everything from Sergio Leone, Don Segal, and Brian Hutton as a young actor and aspiring film maker during the late 1960s and 70s. Phillippe, Bradford and Beach are wonderful as the Marine celebrities and the supporting cast of Pepper, McDonough, Walker, Bell, and Bauer all play wonderful characters as well.
My favorite part in the film were the scenes surrounding the flag raising which most audience members were unaware that there were two different flag raising events. When the men raise the flag for the first time atop Suribachi, The men on the ground begin to cheer, men aboard the navy ships in the armada see and cheer, then horns aboard the ships sound in celebration that this was the first time in over one thousand years that an enemy flag was raised on Japanese soil. It is truly an emotional scene to those watching it on the big screen.
The film opened to much critical praise, yet the film underperformed earning only $65,900,249 worldwide. Eastwood was nominated for a golden globe for Best Director and the film was nominated for two 2006 Academy Awards for Best Sound and Sound Editing.
A fight over the depiction of African Americans in the film developed between Eastwood and director Spike Lee who felt that Black Marines were not depicted in the film properly in point of fact, over five-hundred thousand African Americans served oversees during World War II, but the military was segregated at the time and black units were not allowed to serve with white troops. During the debriefing scenes on the ship, the camera shows black Marines whose unit took part in the first landing sequence.
Producer Steven Spielberg intervened between both Eastwood and Lee to end the fighting over the depiction of soldiers in the film. Lee eventually sent a copy of his film Miracle at St. Anna to Eastwood as a token of apology. Flags of Our Fathers was followed two months later in December 2006 by Letters From Iwo Jima, which shows the battle through the perspective of the Japanese defenders. This film, which was shot at the same time as Flags, is considered by many and most critics to be the best film in the series.
Flags of Our Fathers is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray disc through Warner Bros/DreamWorks Pictures and is available through Netflix.