14 October 2006 | kerr-g
On February 23, 1945, an insignificant event became one of the most significant events of World War II.
"Flags of Our Fathers" is the story of the five Marines and one Navy Corpsman who raised a replacement flag on a stinking little island six-hundred miles south of Tokyo. An Associated Press photographer, who wasn't ready and was caught off guard, snapped a picture of them raising this seemingly unimportant second flag. He had no idea what he had just done.
That one picture is said to be the most reproduced picture in the history of photography.
I toured Iwo Jima in 2000 with my father, a private in the 5th Marine Division, who, along with the flag raisers, landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945 -- the opening day of what would be the costliest battle in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps.
I can't say enough good things about the realism of Clint Eastwood's "Flags of our Fathers." Visually, the movie made me think that I was back on Iwo Jima, and emotionally, I felt like I was witnessing what I had been told by Iwo survivors and what I had read in Richard E. Overton's "God Isn't Here: A Young American's Entry into World War II and His Participation in the Battle for Iwo Jima."
James Bradley's book "Flags of our Fathers," is wonderful, and this movie of the same name is very faithful to his book.
But, the editing of the movie takes the viewer through so many flash-backs and flash-forwards that it's hard to keep things straight -- even if you have read the book!
The movie opens with Harve Presnel (I think it was Harve) playing the role of what I thought was a narrator. Later, it looks like he's just one of many people that James Bradley interviewed for his book.
I was expecting some corny things in the movie, like seeing the flag raising picture taking up the full screen in the theater while the Marine Corps Hymn played. That didn't happen. After I heard what I thought was a narrator, I thought that anyone who didn't know what was going on in the movie would probably be kept informed of the not-so-obvious things . . . like it was Howlin' Mad Smith who was demanding, and not getting, additional bombardment of the island; like it was Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, who told Howlin' Mad Smith that "...the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years." These events were in the movie, but the characters were neither introduced by name in the movie, nor were they described by "the narrator," who seemed to come and go at odd times.
Ira Hayes is a tragic character. It's obvious that Hollywood likes tragic characters just because of all of the attention that he gets in this movie, and because Tony Curtis made a movie about Ira Hayes back in 1961. The actor who plays Ira in this movie is great!
Stephen Spielberg and Clint Eastwood obviously had to tap dance around an "Elephant in the Room" when it came to showing what happened to John Bradley's friend on Iwo Jima. If you've read the book, you know what happened. The movie does a masterful job of bringing the subject up, but not bringing it up in a manner that would offend the squeamish, or, for that matter, bringing it up in a way that would make it impossible to show the movie to a Japanese audience.