Flags of our Fathers: Clint Eastwood Movie about Iwo Jima

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World War II Epic the Talk of Hollywood: 

Iwo Jima Photo Takes Center Stage in Clint Eastwood Movie: “A Single Shot Can End The War”

Flags of Our Fathers is a reconstruction of the events in the lives of six men, an account of what led up to and followed one of World War II’s most enduring images: the flag raising on top of Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. It’s the first part in Eastwood’s ambitious two-part project.

The famous snapshot forever immortalized six soldiers, who instantly became a part of American history that day. Three of the men, Franklin Sousley (Joseph Cross), Michael Strank (Barry Pepper), and Harlon Block (Ben Walker) did not survive the war. John Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) did, but became unwilling symbols of victory for the public to celebrate.

Only Bradley managed to live his life largely unaffected by the attention. Having never kept a copy of the infamous photograph and having never spoken of the events to his close friends and family, he passed away relatively quietly. His son’s discovery of his involvement in the battle takes the young man on a quest to learn more about the father, his friends, and their lives.

     

What to Expect:
For those unfamiliar with history, in February of 1945, war in Europe was drawing to a close, but the American-Japanese struggle in the Pacific was still unresolved. As part of their island-hopping strategy, the Americans looked to take the island of Iwo Jima from the Japanese. The little patch of land was only a third of the size of Manhattan, but it proved to be a vital point strategically and resulted in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. Nearly all of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima died defending it and almost 7,000 Americans perished while trying to take over the territory. During battle, a group of six Marines was photographed raising the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi. The picture was sent around the world and came to symbolize the valor and the victory of the American troops, giving hope to a nation that had grown weary of war. American control of the island eventually allowed the Allies to launch bomber attacks into mainland Japan, consequently resulting in the dropping of the atomic bomb that essentially ended the war.

The film is based on a New York Times Bestseller by Ron Powers and Jim Bradley called Flags of Our Fathers: Heroes of Iwo Jima. Bradley learned of his father John’s involvement in the battle and his inclusion in the photograph only after his death. Since John never spoke about any of his experiences during the war, it was a fascinating discovery for Jim that led him on a quest to learn more about his father and his fellow soldiers. The book is told from Jim’s point of view as he weeds through historical accounts as well as his father’s many recently discovered personal photos and letters from that period. Part history lecture and part memoir, the novel attempts to separate the myths of their heroism from the troubling reality. While the six men became instant American icons, they felt reluctant to take on the status of celebrity. As the book faithfully pieces their lives together and attempts to reconstruct their wartime experiences, the tragic life stories of the men begin to emerge. Three died before the war’s end, while the remaining three were chosen by the military to go on a huge public relations tour to boost morale and raise funds. Needless to say, it was an uncomfortable situation for the men, who felt no desire for special treatment. Two of them, Ira Hayes and Rene Gagnon, were unable to handle their glorified images with grace. Hayes essentially drank himself to death and Gagnon went down a bitter road of trying to cash in on his celebrity status. Only John Bradley, a Navy Corpsman and the book’s central figure, was truly able to carry on with his life.

Like the book, the movie will look at the shattering effects of the war on these men, focusing primarily on the three that returned home to absorb all of the ensuing media frenzy. Two-time Oscar winning director

Clint Eastwood re-teams with his Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis for Flags of Our Fathers. The two have been Hollywood’s filmmaking power duo over the past couple of years. Eastwood has aged like a fine wine, becoming more introspective late in his career and growing into a complete, mature, and celebrated filmmaker. His last two outings, Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, have both been phenomenal and easily qualify as some of the best work he has done among the 25 films he directed. Paul Haggis adapted the screenplay for Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby and of course wrote and directed this year’s surprise Academy Award winner, Crash. Everyone has been looking to get a piece of him lately, even the producers of the upcoming James Bond flick, Casino Royale, who approached him for advice on the screenplay. Perhaps the most impressive part of another Eastwood-Haggis collaboration is their other project, Red Sun, Black Sand, which is being filmed simultaneously with Flags of Our Fathers as a companion piece. For Red Sun, Black Sand, Eastwood appears to be taking a page out of Mel Gibson‘s book to tell the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective. He’s filled the cast primarily with Japanese actors and will shoot the picture entirely in the Japanese language. It’s a fascinating and ambitious undertaking that has never been done quite like this before. The two features will complement each other, while representing the two different perspectives of the opposing sides.

If one looks down the cast list, it’s easily noticeable that there are many characters in Flags of Our Fathers, but the movie is basically about the three Marines that survived the war. The film will look to separate the myths of heroism during war from actual experiences of those tragic individuals. The adventurous and sometimes sentimentalized view found in pictures such as Saving Private Ryan is not likely to be found here. Judging from the early reports on the screenplay, the film will take on a somber poetic tone, maintaining a relatively impressionistic and almost plotless narrative. It will study the loneliness of the young soldiers caught in between two worlds, and their alienation from the public, friends, and even family. The project seems like a rather vague, but compassionate piece that will show the tragedy in the lives of men who became heroes simply because of one photograph.

In Conclusion:
Early buzz suggests that this is the film to beat come awards season. As of right now, Flags of Our Fathers is scheduled for release in October with
Red Sun, Black Sand (Letters from Iwo Jima) tentatively scheduled for a December opening. This could result in Eastwood becoming his own fiercest adversary at Oscar time. For Ryan Phillipe, who has the central role of the humble John Bradley, this might be the part of a lifetime. I always hunger for war movies that approach the subject from a more ambiguous and realistic angle as opposed to the glossy, romanticized Hollywood accounts. A film that lets go of conventions is able to achieve a certain purity that Eastwood may also find here with Flags of Our Fathers. However, this may not be the feel-good war epic that audiences desire and might hurt the film’s box-office numbers as well as awards chances.

Trivia

  • Jared Leto turned down a key role in order to commit his time to his band, 30 Seconds to Mars.
  • Eastwood tried to option ‘Flags of Our Fathers’ after the book by James Bradley and Ron Powers was published in May 2000. However, Steven Spielberg had already bought the rights that summer, and in early 2001, had assigned its adaptation to the screenwriter William Broyles Jr. Spielberg wasn’t satisfied with the resulting screenplay and it laid dormant until he met with Eastwood at the Governors Ball after the 2004 Oscar. After that, Eastwood took charge as the director with Spielberg as the producer.
  • Shot back-to-back with Letters From Iwo Jima.
  • Apparently the Japanese government would not permit filming on Iwo Jima, so scenes were filmed in Iceland, the only other place with black sand beaches.

Original Literary Source
James Bradley with Ron Powers. Flags of Our Fathers. Bantam, May 2000, (BK), 0553111337
Essays
Vinocur, John. Politics and metaphor in next Eastwood film. In: International Herald Tribune (USA), Vol. 37944, 8 March 2005, Pg. 2, (NP)


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