Opening 18 Jan 2007
One war photo from World War II told a thousand words. It depicts six brave soldiers raising an American flag over a pile of rocks and they look as if they are risking death under the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air. Not true. The film tells the real story.
The initial surge onto the Japanese island of Iwo Jima by 33,000, and later 73,000, American soldiers was temporarily over. There was a lull in the fighting when soldiers leisurely raised a flag. It was so peaceful that a politician visited the battle field. Seeing Old Glory flapping from the highest point called Mount Suribachi, he desired it for a souvenir. The soldiers agreed to keep it themselves (who knows where it is today) and raised a second flag to fly “for the politician’s den back home.” This event was photographed by Joe Rosenthal for the Associated Press. The fighting continued 30 more days and three of the six died. The remaining three were sent back to the U.S. to sell war bonds to supplement the American treasury which had a $14 billion deficit. People cheered the heroes in huge football stadiums, heroes who became more and more uncomfortable in the role forced upon them.
The story, told in flashbacks, is too long and confusing. Perhaps readers of the bestseller of the same name by James Bradley will find it easier to follow. It is filmed in grey, white, and black to look like an old 1950s film, with endless scenes of yet one more soldier’s eyelids fluttering closed as he sinks into merciful death, his intestines oozing onto the ground. In spite of the weaknesses, director Clint Eastwood is to be admired for slaving away at yet another blockbuster (the scenes of thousands of ships is impressive; an old-fashioned war is a relief from the current terrorist conflicts). He’ll probably be up for some more Oscars for this one, after Million Dollar Baby, as it patriotically declares “a hero is somebody we create, who does it not for his country but for his buddies.” Europeans will decide it is rah-rah Americana, but you can’t please everyone. Ryan Phillippe is a sight for sore gay eyes in his little sailor suit, looking like he came straight off the stage with the Village People; at least you can differentiate him while all the others soldiers, Japanese and American, look alike. (Becky Tan)