Flags of Our Fathers 4.0 stars

Flags of Our Fathers movie poster
  • Rated R

Clint Eastwood, sorely trying the patience of anyone still hoping for a sixth installment of Dirty Harry, is plainly not yet done paying penance for the casual, callous, and prolific violence of his earlier years. And this elegiac war film makes an essential, an unmissable, piece of the entire cycle, an extraordinary course of self-examination and self-reform, beginning in earnest with the aptly titled Unforgiven, continuing through A Perfect World and, yes, The Bridges of Madison County — the modern-day saddle tramp riding a pickup instead of a pony and shooting with a camera instead of a Colt — and, after slacking off for a few lesser efforts, carrying on with revived urgency through Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby. Once again, as in Bridges, opting for the camera as a weapon of choice, he tells the story of the famous Joe Rosenthal flag-raising photograph from the Battle of Iwo Jima — the full story, how this flag was in actuality a larger replacement flag for one raised already, how the battle raged on for five more weeks afterwards (contrary to the 1949 Sands of Iwo Jima with John Wayne), how the three survivors among the six faceless flag-raisers (played with great restraint by Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford) were brought back home to be paraded around on a bond drive, how they squirmed under the banner of "the heroes of Iwo Jima" (the best-known of them, the American Indian Ira Hayes, later celebrated in song by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, drank himself into an irreversible skid), how they lived out their remaining days. It is distinctly a film of, and for, its own time, gripped with the conviction that the more you know about an event, the more tainted it will get. (And let's remind ourselves here that Eastwood is the only major filmmaker to have commemorated on screen the American conquest of Grenada. Surely some special penance was owed for that. Mark it down as paid in full.) The central theme of the manufacture and marketing of "heroes," while timeless in its application to the everyday work of Hollywood, has a particular topicality in the post-9/11 world where no one in public service seems to be able to do his job anymore without being branded a hero. The point — that men are only men, that "heroes" are their creations, a label pinned on them like ribbons — is quietly and forcefully made. Yet despite its best efforts, or rather because of them, the film inescapably demonstrates the existence of heroes in the real world. One such, obviously, would be Eastwood himself, a shining example of the human capacity for growth and renewal. He, too, shoots with a camera. 2006.

Duncan Shepherd

This movie is not currently in theaters.


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