Saturday, March 03, 2007


My father was sixteen when he enlisted, with my grandfather’s permission, in the Navy during World War Two. Dad rarely talked about his military service. I never heard why a young man raised in Kansas and the flatlands of Texas chose the Navy, or how he felt about having his ship sunk by a suicide pilot off the coast of Okinawa and being one of the few survivors. I do remember that the fire in the water burned his eyes and he didn’t tell the doctors because the survivors were being shipped to San Diego and, if he’d said something, they would have sent him to the hospital at Pearl instead.

When Clint Eastwood announced his next films would be about the World War II battle in Iwo Jima I was intrigued. Hundreds, if not thousands, of movies have been made about the Second World War. Most have been about the European campaign. Only a few have been about the war in the South Pacific. (The Bridge on the River Kwai, Mister Roberts, Sands of Iwo Jima, Tora!Tora!Tora!, Midway, The Great Raid, Pearl Harbor)

Flags of Our Fathers is the first of the two movies released. The hook is one of the most famous photographs, if not the most famous, taken during the war – the servicemen raising the flag on Mount Suribachi and what happened to the men who raised the flag.

The movie is actually two films book-ended by a son’s search to discover what his father did during the war. (Because his father rarely talked about it.) The story about the battle and the men who fought it is gripping, bloody, and extremely well done. The story about the three survivors of the photograph back home is repetitive and the message driven in with a sledgehammer. I got it the first time – two of the men did not want to be there, didn’t consider themselves heroes in any way, shape, or form, and disliked posing on papier-mâché mountains to sell war bonds. The back-home story could’ve been done in one segment (the one at Soldier Field stadium) and conveyed the message easily. The acting is top-notch. Berry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan) and Adam Beach (Windtalkers) were the stand-outs for me but all did terrific. One back-home scene that really stood out for me was when, after the war, Ira Hayes (Beach) walks from the Indian reservation where he lives in Arizona to Texas. He goes to tell the father of one of his fallen comrades that it is his son in the photograph not the also fallen serviceman who was named by the military and press.

If I gave out stars, the Iwo Jima section would get four out of four stars. The back-home section would get one.

No comments: