THE LIV­ING & THE DEAD

FLAGS OF OUR FA­THERS ★★★★★ Di­rected by Clint East­wood. Star­ring Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Brad­ford, Adam Beach, Barry Pep­per, Jamie Bell, Robert Pa­trick 15A cert gen re­lease, 132 min

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS - Michael Dwyer

EV­ERY war pro­duces an in­deli­ble im­age that res­onates more than any oth­ers, be it the top­pling of the Sad­dam Hus­sein statue in Bagh­dad three years ago; the scream­ing, burnt naked young Viet­namese girl af­ter a na­palm bomb at­tack in 1972; or the six US sol­diers rais­ing the Stars & Stripes on the sum­mit of Mount Surib­achi on the des­o­late Pa­cific is­land of Iwo Jima in Fe­bru­ary 1945.

That mo­ment in time, cap­tured by As­so­ci­ated Press pho­tog­ra­pher Joe Rosen­thal, be­came a po­tent sym­bol of tri­umph, hope and pro­pa­ganda for the US, boost­ing sales of war bonds. Four years later, it was cel­e­brated in the John Wayne movie Sands of Iwo Jima, which in­cor­po­rated footage of the bat­tle.

Clint East­wood re­turns to Rosen­thal’s fa­mous pho­to­graph in his thought­ful, mov­ing new film, which punc­tures the myths built around the im­age and ad­dresses is­sues un­palat­able for the post­war era in which the Wayne movie was made.

Scripted by Paul Hag­gis (Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby, Crash) and William Broyles Jr (Jar­head, Apollo 13), Flags of Our Fa­thers is based on a book by James Bradley, whose fa­ther John was one of the six sol­diers who raised the flag. He wrote the book “to find out why my dad was silent” and be­cause “ev­ery­one knew the photo, but no­body knows the story.” The story the film tells is one of re­luc­tant young he­roes – John Bradley (played by Ryan Phillippe) and the two other sur­viv­ing flag-rais­ers, Rene Gagnon (Jesse Brad­ford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) – as they are taken out of ser­vice, thrust into the spot­light and taken on a whistlestop tour of the US to be feted in the style of the era’s movie stars.

Ad­dress­ing an ad­mir­ing throng in Times Square, Gagnon in­sists that they just put up the flag and got their pic­ture taken, that the real he­roes were killed on Iwo Jima. To cap­i­talise on the im­pact of Rosen­thal’s pho­to­graph, the US mil­i­tary is in­tent on spin­ning the leg­end, even though one of the three sol­diers who died in bat­tle was misiden­ti­fied in the pic­ture.

Repli­cas of that im­age, large and small, are con­structed, and when one is served as dessert at a cel­e­bra­tory party, the rasp­berry sauce poured on it evokes the blood shed in the is­land com­bat that claimed thou­sands of young lives.

The pal­ette for the epic bat­tle scenes is aptly som­bre, verg­ing on mono­chrome as the sol­diers make their way across black sand un­der grey skies. Th­ese se­quences cap­ture the con­flict in all its chaos, ca­coph­ony, fear and de­struc­tion as the body count soars.

There are more harsh re­al­i­ties for Ira Hayes, who, as a Na­tive Amer­i­can, has to en­dure jibes about tom­a­hawks and wig­wams from fel­low sol­diers and mil­i­tary brass, and is turned away from a bar that re­fuses ad­mis­sion to his race. And as this fine film charts the ex­pe­ri­ences of all three sur­vivors af­ter the war, it takes on a melan­choly tone suf­fused with dis­en­chant­ment and tinged with bit­ter­ness.

Flags of Our Fa­thers con­cludes poignantly on images of the real US sol­diers, and with a ded­i­ca­tion to “Phyl­lis and Bummy”, East­wood’s long­time col­lab­o­ra­tors, cast­ing di­rec­tor Phyl­lis Huff­man and pro­duc­tion de­signer Henry Bum­stead, who died this year. (opens to­day)

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