Flags of our Fathers (6/10)
by Tony Medley
Iwo Jima was probably the
most vicious battle fought by American forces in the 20th
Century. One-third of American casualties in the Pacific during WWII
occurred on Iwo. Fittingly, the most memorable war photograph ever taken
came about when Joe Rosenthal made a quick picture of six men raising
the flag on Mount Suribachi. Director Clint Eastwood and screenwriters
William Broyles, Jr. and Paul Haggis have made this film to tell the
story of what happened to the six.
Most people know that three
of them died within a week of the flag-raising. The other three were
sent on a bond-raising tour of the United States.
Although Eastwood shows that
the landing was brutal, in fact, the Japanese were laying a trap for the
marines and let the landing proceed without much opposition. Once they
got on the beach, however, they hit them with just about everything they
had. Bad as it was, and Iíve never been able to figure out how the
marines ever got off that beach, the rest of the battle was worse.
But this film isnít about the
battle, although it does show the landing and what happened to the three
who didnít survive. Itís about the effects on the other three.
The movie barely alludes to
the controversy that sprung up about whether or not the photo was posed,
but doesnít explain why this question came up. Rosenthal took the
picture hurriedly, and thatís not really shown, either. Despite whatís
shown in the movie, he was setting up to take it next to a guy with a
movie camera, who was shooting it, also. Rosenthalís attention was
diverted when the guy with the movie camera said, ďJoe, there it goes!Ē
Rosenthal turned and snapped quickly, without even looking through his
viewfinder. The result of which was the famous picture. This is
something Iíve known for years; itís a part of the public record. Itís a
better story than what Eastwood shows in the movie and there is no
reason on earth why Clint couldnít have gotten it right. What he shows
is certainly less compelling than the truth.
Rosenthal subsequently took a
posed photo of the men who raised the flag around it after it was
raised. He sent the film back to be developed and received a message
asking if it was posed. Thinking the question was referring to the
picture he posed, he replied that it was. When he later discovered that
it was the one he snapped quickly, he said that that one wasnít posed,
but by that time it was too late and the word went out that the famous
picture was posed. Iím not sure why Eastwood didnít deal with this more
thoroughly. In fact, Rosenthal (Ned Eisenberg) is such a minor character
in the movie heís only in a couple of scenes.
But thatís not the worst part
of Eastwoodís sins on this film. There were two flags raised on Iwo.
Rosenthalís picture was of the second. The story that I have always
heard was that the first was replaced because the Colonel in charge, I
think his name was Johnson, thought that the first flag was too small,
so he ordered a squad to go up and put up another, larger flag, so that
everyone could see it, which they did and of which Rosenthal took the
picture. Eastwood ignores this fact, however, and charges a selfish
general wanted the first flag as a souvenir and he ordered the squad
back up the mountain to get it for him, causing, according to Clint,
lots of grousing of the men in the squad, having to brave enemy fire to
get a souvenir flag for the General. Why Eastwood inserts such negative
scenes in the movie is anybodyís guess, but it reflects poorly on the
military and that must have been the reason. Shame on you, Clint.
The bulk of the film follows
John ďDocĒ Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), and
Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) as they go on their bond tour. All three actors
give admirable performances. Hayes is pictured as a ďdrunken Indian,Ē
who is constantly discriminated against, even to the point that a four
star marine general orders that he be sent back to Iwo before he
disgraces the armed forces further. Because of Eastwoodís questionable
story-telling in dealing with the flag-raising, the reason given for
Hayes being returned to battle is of dubious credibility. In fact, he
apparently consistently requested to be returned to battle. Despite what
the picture shows, Hayes actually died in an irrigation ditch where he
fell after a night of drinking and card-playing and froze to death, ten
weeks after attending the dedication ceremony of the flag-raising statue
in Washington, D.C.
The picture shows animosity
between Hayes and Gagnon because in the film Hayes asked Gagnon not to
tell anyone that he was one of the flag-raisers, but Gagnon told anyway.
Bradley is kind of a peacemaker between the two.
Itís too bad that what could
have been a good movie, the standard for what happened, and what most
people who see it will believe, is burdened by questionable tales that
cast doubt on the integrity of the military. This is an entertaining
movie, but I was troubled by Eastwood's approach. What's the point of
showing the reason for replacing the first flag as a selfish personal
desire for a souvenir? Of not showing how Rosenthal's picture was
actually taken? Of blaming unfeeling discrimination as the reason for
Hayes being returned to battle?