If you're as bored by the self-congratulatory backslapping of "the greatest generation"—those who lived and fought through World War II—as I am, you'll find Flags of Our Fathers a welcome relief... despite the overly dramatic title. Though Steven "How can we make this more manipulative?" Spielberg is the producer, Clint "I'm actually a very fine director" Eastwood is behind the wheel—and as in such works as Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood knows how to present storytelling that rarely insults the intelligence.
On the other hand, Flags of Our Fathers seems, from the outset, to be tailor-made for insulting the brain—yet another rousing rah-rah for the brave men who gave their lives so the rest of us wouldn't live under Tojo's iron thumb, blah, blah, blah, blah, BLAH. However, Eastwood smartly gives us something we rarely see in such re-creations of famous scenes from the war: the truth.
The film revolves around the famous photograph "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima," picturing six soldiers on a barren hilltop hefting Old Glory against a slate gray sky. The photo proved to be a watershed moment of the war—ostensibly summing up, for all the folks back home, the reason our boys were fighting. They were making a stand... America was making a stand against those who would blaspheme our freedoms and way of life. That was the idea, anyway.
In reality, this photo didn't depict a super heroic moment where we captured the dead volcanic rock of Iwo Jima. Instead, it was a moment far more mundane and deeper than most realize, and that's what Flags of Our Fathers captures so beautifully. Not only does the film show the horror and majesty of thousands of soldiers storming the beaches and suffering the price—including several gruesome displays reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—but even better, Eastwood demonstrates how the American military machine actually works, using the photograph to raise money to finance the war, at the cruel expense of the soldiers who raised the flag.
And while the film suffers—as most epics do—from a two-dimensionality of characterization, as well as one sappy father/son moment at the end that almost sinks the entire production, Flags of Our Fathers is still the strongest war movie to come along in quite awhile. Because it feels something like the truth. Finally.