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Flags of Our Fathers

A single shot can end the war 

Year: 2006 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from Flags of Our Fathers

Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beech

The World War Two image of six US soldiers raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima is perhaps one of the most recognisable photographs of conflict ever taken; you will recognise the picture, even if you never previously knew what it was about. Based on real events, Flags Of Our Fathers charts the story behind the image, focussing on the three surviving flag-raisers – John “Doc” Bradley, Rene Gagnon and Ira Hayes – who were whisked back to the US and hailed as heroes. The picture was used as a source of inspiration for the American population, weary from three years’ conflict in Europe and the Pacific, and yet the film explains how much was missed by those who were not there to experience what it portrayed.

Flags Of Our Fathers, and its accompanying film, Letters From Iwo Jima, marks a continuation of fine form by its director, Clint Eastwood, coming after the highly-acclaimed Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby. Eastwood takes a non-chronological approach to telling the story of Bradley (Phillippe), Gagnon (Bradford) and Hayes (Beech), moving between events before and after the famous flag-raising, from the spectacular conflict scenes on Iwo Jima to the whirlwind promotional tour the three men were reluctantly obliged to do. This technique allows the audience to grasp how events changed the men, how they went from fighting for their country and their fellow soldiers to being thrust into the limelight, political puppets urging the US population to buy bonds to fund the war effort.

The three central actors all play their parts faultlessly, and it is worth remembering that the characters they portray are not fictional creations. Each soldier has his own personality, his own flaws, and these are sensitively brought to life to build someone the audience can identify as a real person. Through their eyes we too begin to understand the vagaries of war: the camaraderie between the soldiers compared to the horrors they will see and the grief they will experience. The raising of the flag was a symbol, not a victory in itself. The film is partially set as a study of the flag-raisers as ‘heroes’, and yet ends up being much more of a study of heroism itself. Unlike many war films, which usually have an obvious pro- or anti- bias, Flags Of Our Fathers is an important exception: it allows the audience to make up its own mind.

Michael Lazenby

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Screenings of this film:

2006/2007 Summer Term (35mm)
2006/2007 Summer Term (35mm)