Flags of Our Fathers

flags-poster“Daddy, Ma’s got a picture of Harlon’s keister in the paper!”

The Scoop: 2006 R, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, and Adam Beach

Tagline: A Single Shot Can End The War

Summary Capsule: The Americans deal with the aftermath of the battle of Iwo Jima.

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Lissa’s Rating: Gory, gory, hallelujah!! Okay, so that was probably in bad taste.

Lissa’s Review: Welcome to my double feature, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. Although they’re in separate reviews, I seem to compare them a lot. This makes sense as they were released as companion movies and deal with the same subject in a broad sort of way. We saw Flags of Our Fathers before Letters from Iwo Jima, that was the order they were released in, and I’m writing this review first, so bear that all that in mind.

Flags of Our Fathers is one of the two war movies released in 2006 by Clint Eastwood. The movies made a lot of press and certainly got a lot of awards talk going, which really isn’t a surprise, because well-made war movies always make press and get awards talk going. Focusing on the Pacific front of World War II, and most specifically the Battle of Iwo Jima, Flags of Our Fathers presents the American perspective. Sort of.

I say “sort of” because Flags of Our Fathers is two movies in one. On the one hand, it’s the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima from the American perspective. On the other hand, it’s also the story of the iconic photograph of soldiers raising the American flag, and the post-war lives of some of the photographed men. Much of the movie takes place back on American soil as three of the flag raisers tour the country, trying to raise money for the war. But wait, you say. There were at least six men in the photograph! Yes, well. Remember these men toured the United States after the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), John Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) are the three survivors who are on tour. In classic war story tradition, at least two of these three guys are not big names. (And if for some reason you think of Ryan Phillippe as a Dawson’s Creek/boy band type of actor, which for some bizarre reason I did, this is a good time to reevaluate that opinion.) The three men respond to their newfound fame very differently. Gagnon is ready to embrace it, Bradley accepts it as best he can, and Hayes resents it, especially as he feels he did nothing spectacular to be honored for. Interlaced with the story of the tour are flashbacks of the battle and the story of the flag raising photograph.

I was of two minds about Flags of Our Fathers, mainly because it was two movies. Movie 1, the story of the tour and how the men in question handled their fame, was extremely interesting and an unexamined angle (movie-wise) of World War II. I really enjoyed this part of the movie, and watching how the war and being in this famous photograph, affected the boys and how they dealt with it. The acting was excellent, the emotions were ranged and real, and it struck me as very honest, neither stripping away glory nor adding to it. This part of the movie really made me think of my reaction to Jarhead, where I thought that the movie did an excellent job presenting the Marines as individuals and young men, not as stereotypes.

Movie 2, however, the Battle of Iwo Jima, I did not like. This wasn’t because it was necessarily bad, per se. But it was extremely graphic and intense. You know that first forty five minutes of Saving Private Ryan, where they storm Normandy Beach? Exactly like that. In fact, Stephen Spielberg was one of the producers, and this was one spot where I really think it showed. I felt EXACTLY like I did watching that scene in Saving Private Ryan. Some of you will think that’s a good thing. Some of you will not. (Incidentally, Stephen Spielberg MUST be one of the world’s leading experts on World War II by now, wouldn’t you think? And I do mean that seriously, because the man seems to have researched it exhaustively.)

For me, I found it too gory, too violent. Yes, war is violent, I know. But there also comes a point where the violence and the gore become so overwhelming that I find myself distracted from the story and spending more energy trying not to throw up than caring about the characters. I was very close to asking Duckie to turn it off and watch it the next day without me. I’m glad I didn’t, because I really did like Movie 1 and found it very powerful. But the battle scenes were too much for me. Some of you are reading this and saying, “yeah, well, you have a weak stomach,” and I’m glad you are. This is a line that’s in a different place for each person, so a lot of people may not have as much of an issue with it as I did. Sure, it adds realism, but I thought it added it at the expense of the story.

But the feeling Flags of Our Fathers evoked in me was one of great sadness. I’ll probably never get around to reviewing Saving Private Ryan, so let me say that Saving Private Ryan and parts of Band of Brothers also had the same effect. It’s just the realization of, on a personal level, how bloody STUPID war is. I find it very hard — and very sad — to watch these young men sent to war, to storm the beach, and then to die before they even set foot on dry land. They were literal canon fodder. It seems like such a waste of a life, just to be shot as soon as you faced the enemy. I know it still seems like a waste later, but any war movie that gets me to care about the characters will make me feel like this. I realize I’m not well-versed in politics. I know there are reasons for war. But I can’t help but think there shouldn’t be.

I do respect the choices these young men made, if they had a choice. (Sorry. You’re NOT going to get me to like the draft.) But Flags of Our Fathers just really drove home how badly war screws people up. I don’t think I could be in the military, because I don’t think I could hack it. Aside from the very real danger of death and having to watch your friends die, Flags of Our Fathers also focused on doing things you weren’t proud of later in life. It takes someone very strong and dedicated to deal with that. But then, I suppose you do it because you have to. One thing being a parent teaches you — it’s amazing what you can do because you have to do it. War must teach that lesson a thousand times over.

Because of the violence aspect, I vastly preferred Letters from Iwo Jima. I do think Flags of Our Fathers was a good movie, but I also felt that Movie 2 has been done before. I am very glad we watched Flags of Our Fathers first, for several reasons. For one, I think it gave the background information on the battle in a more accessible way. But for two, I think we as a country aren’t used to thinking of the other side so much, and the Japanese were presented in Flags of Our Fathers exactly as the Americans would have seen them. To see that brief, cursory depiction and then the depth presented in Letters from Iwo Jima was really powerful.

It’s not the best World War II movie I’ve ever seen — look to Spielberg for that — but it’s one of the better ones. Definitely worth the rent. Just don’t watch it right before you go to sleep.

flags-cap

“Work it, baby, work it! That’s it. LOVELY fall camouflage, now show me the TIGER!”

Intermission!

  • The scene in which a sailor falls from a ship and is left in the water as the fleet steams toward Iwo Jima actually happened. The incident is described in of ‘Iwo’ by Richard Wheeler, himself a veteran of the fighting. Quote: ‘According to Coast Guardsman Chet Hack of LST 763: “We got the man-overboard signal from the ship ahead of us. We turned to port to avoid hitting him and threw him a life preserver, but had orders not to stop. We could not hold up twenty-four ships for one man. Looking back, we could see him waving his arms, and it broke our hearts that we couldn’t help him. We hoped that one of our destroyers or other small men-of-war that were cruising around to protect us would pick him up, but we never heard that they did.”
  • The flag raisers included John Bradley (a Navy corpsman, and the author of the original book’s father), Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Mike Strank, Harlon Block, and Franklin Sousley; Strank, Block, and Sousley died later in the battle.
  • Masturbation papers! Make sure you sign them! (That joke is far less funny when written out.)
  • The budget for Flags of Our Fathers AND Letters from Iwo Jima was less than $70 million, according to IMDb. Didja notice you can make an excellent war movie for a lot less than what Michael Bay spent?
  • All sorts of fun factual errors that I never noticed but if you’re a military buff, you might.

Groovy Quotes

James Bradley: I finally came to the conclusion that he maybe he was right maybe there are no such things as heroes maybe there are just people like my dad, I finally came to understand why they were so uncomfortable being called heroes. Heroes are something we create, something we need. It’s a way for us to understand what is almost incomprehensible, how people could sacrifice so much for us, but for my dad and these men the risks they took, the wounds they suffered, they did that for their buddies, they may have fought for their country but they died for their friends. For the man in front for the man beside him, and if we wish to truly honor these men we should remember them the way they really were the way my dad remembered them.

Lundsford: You actually chose the Marines because they had the best uniforms?
Rene Gagnon: No sense being a hero if you don’t look like one.

Mike Strank: Any man that doesn’t have his masturbation papers in order better get them signed by tomorrow night or he ain’t going overseas.
Gust: I got mine already.
Lundsford: Oh, yeah, I’m square.
Franklin Sousley: Wait, wait. Why am I just hearing about this?
Mike Strank: That’s horses**t, Franklin! I don’t have to repeat everything twice for you.
Franklin Sousley: No, I didn’t hear nothin’ about no masturbating papers!
Ira Hayes: Heard they were running short.
Franklin Sousley: You know, nobody tells me nothing. That’s real nice, guys!
Mike Strank: All right, get your ass over to the officer in charge of records. Maybe he’s got some more left. Leave your smokes. I’ll play for you.
Franklin Sousley: Thanks, Mike.
Mike: Listen, if he calls you an idiot, you take it like a man, okay? Just *do not* leave without signing them.

Belle’s Young Son: Ma, all you can see is his behind.
Belle Block: And that’s his. I powdered and diapered it, I know my son. That’s him. Go get your father.
Belle’s Young Son: Daddy, Ma’s got a picture of Harlon’s keister in the paper!

Captain Severance: That your James Cagney impersonation? ‘Cause I’ve heard better.

Bud Gerber: People on the street corners, they looked at this picture and they took hope. Don’t ask me why, I think it’s a crappy picture, myself. You can’t even see your faces! But it said we can win this war, are winning this war, we just need you to dig a little deeper. They want to give us that money. No, they want to give it to *you*.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Jarhead
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