An old man awakens in the night, calling for an old friend who is not around anymore; his wife comforts him as he goes back to sleep. Later, he collapses, calling out for Iggy once more, but who was Iggy? He was one of his fellow soldiers when he was in the military during World War Two, and the old man was John Bradley, known as Doc (Ryan Phillippe), a medic who went on to become something of a celebrity thanks to being in the right place at the right time. That place was the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, and the time was when the U.S. forces stormed it, creating a famous photograph once they had succeeded on securing its summit, an image that would haunt Doc and his comrades...
There was a famous film about that place made in the nineteen-forties, The Sands of Iwo Jima, where John Wayne did his bit for his country in a patriotic morale booster. Such films were called flagwavers at the time, and aptly it was the waving of a flag that concerned director Clint Eastwood and his screenwriter Paul Haggis, working with William Broyles Jr's original script. The book about that famous photograph of the flag raising on the island had been written by James Bradley and Ron Powers, and seemed a natural choice for filming in its age of fewer concrete certainties about who was on the right side in any current conflict, as it put the propaganda under the microscope.
Propaganda is a trickier proposition these days when there's a diminished consensus about how much we should trust the news outlets and even less the authorities they report on, so it's not surprising that a more noble-minded conflict would be judged with those cynical eyes eventually. But Eastwood would not have made this film and its companion piece Letters from Iwo Jima if he thought it would demolish all that was brave and justified about the War in the Pacific, and so it is that he does not. That's not to say he does not raise questions, and the nagging one about whether the celebrated photograph was staged is what will not go away, for the history it tackles and the characters who were involved.
There are three men who go on a tour of America to drum up support for War Bonds, as the public were growing tired of a war which did not seem to have an end in sight, and one of them is Doc. In the picture printed in every newspaper in the States the faces of the soldiers grappling with the flagpole are obscured, and it's apparent that not all in it are still alive, some having succumbed to the enemy, so Doc, Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) are the only three elected to join this publicity tour. However, although they were involved, we find out the flag went up twice, once for real and another time as a replacement for the one nabbed by the top brass as a souvenir.
So a new emotion erupts in the three men: not pride but guilt and nobody feels that more than Ira, who turns alcoholic and has a habit of breaking down in tears at unfortunate moments. It's not so much that they have left their buddies behind, both alive and dead, but that they feel far from qualified to be representatives of their generation and country, and Ira's anguish is compounded as he is an American Indian and has to suffer prejudice as well as the burden of being held up as a "credit to his race" as they used to say. There's a lot to admire about Flags of Our Fathers, so why does it feel so stately, so lacking in engagement if you are not an expert, armchair or otherwise, in the Second World War? It could be down to the whole approach of allowing us to be proud of the soldiers while admitting the situation they found themselves in was hard to respect, but mapping that out early on and not straying from that tune till the end, which makes for factually interesting but monotonous viewing. Though it was a story worth telling, no doubt about that. Music by Eastwood.
Becoming a superstar in the late 1960s gave Clint Eastwood the freedom to direct in the seventies. Thriller Play Misty for Me was a success, and following films such as High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales showed a real talent behind the camera as well as in front of it. He won an Oscar for his downbeat Western Unforgiven, which showed his tendency to subvert his tough guy status in intriguing ways. Another Oscar was awarded for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, which he also starred in.
Also a big jazz fan, as is reflected in his choice of directing the Charlie Parker biopic Bird. Other films as director include the romantic Breezy, The Gauntlet, good natured comedy Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart, The Bridges of Madison County, OAPs-in-space adventure Space Cowboys, acclaimed murder drama Mystic River, complementary war dramas Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and harrowing true life drama Changeling. Many considered his Gran Torino, which he promised would be his last starring role (it wasn't), one of the finest of his career and he continued to direct with such biopics as Jersey Boys and American Sniper to his name.