Iwo Jima ("Sulfur Island" in Japanese) is a little island six hundred miles south of Tokyo. (Today there is only a Japanese military base now, and you cannot visit the island.) But the name of the island got famous immediately after one photo was taken and published in America nationwide during WWII. The memorable image of six soldiers raising a flag gave courage to the people in America, and three surviving soldiers returning their country became national heroes. It's a famous story.
Clint Eastwood's new film `Flags of Our Fathers' does not try to `debunk' this story. It gives human face to these flag-holing soldiers without over-glorifying them, showing what happened to these heroes John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) before, during, and after the Battle of Iwo Jima. Familiar actors like Jamie Bell, Paul Walker, Robert Patrick and Barry Pepper appear, but the three above play the pivotal roles here.
Remember this is a war movie, and the battle scenes on the beach are often disturbing. (One of the film's producers is Steven Spielberg). Though the fight scenes are less bloody and brutal than those of `Saving Private Ryan,' they are still honest, often shocking, not only because of the bullets and grenades, but because of the confusion and total chaos of the grey-colored battlefield. Eastwood refuses to soften or sensationalize anything, but the results are riveting.
Though the film's theme is clear, its narrative requires our patience a little. The film's story goes back and forth (screenplay part done by Paul Haggis, `Crush'), and this only makes the film look slightly detached from us. The disjointed story requires us to reconstruct, not follow, the experiences of the soldiers. The emotions are certainly there on the screen (thanks to the effective acting), but I am not sure that this is the best way to visualize them. But as I said, the three actors did a fine job as three soldiers who travel around the country for Bond rallies where they have to face another reality during wartime - they are war heroes and people expect them to behave as such.
Finally, some people, not without good reason, say this film is dull. It is true that Eastwood's films tend to be slow, and he takes time to show certain things about the characters. He avoids melodramatic storytelling and showy camerawork, and that does not change in this film. If the battle scenes look confusing, it is perhaps because the war is confusing. If the descirtios of their life as war hero look boring, that is because it is really boring; they were required to do the same thing again and again before finally being forgotten. We just share their feeling, but perhaps too much of it.
This is Clint Eastwood's most ambitious film (and there is "Letters from Iwo Jima" still waiting), and maybe too ambitious as far as its screenplay is concerned. I am impressed with the film, however, with the sincere message from the director who realized the one of the saddest events in history for both people in America and Japan with his touch subtle and powerful at the same time.