It's no wonder that actor/filmmaker Clint Eastwood's Iwo Jima war epic, "Flags of Our Fathers" is suffering defeat at the box office, earning a mere $30 million in four weeks (silly "Borat" almost did better opening weekend).
The problem is that the Director Eastwood and his producing partner Steven Spielberg are telling a truth that many Americans don't want told: The famous Mount Suribachi flag-raising in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Joe Rosenthal photo was not the magnificent moment most remember (it was the second such ceremony on the island that day) and its aftermath left the three surviving hoisters more miserable than they were in the war.
Based on the best-selling book by James Bradley and Ron Powers, "Flags" inter-cuts brutal battle scenes with a successful war bond tour featuring flag-raisers Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and the co-author's father, John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillipe). While the survivors are initially glad to leave the battle (which had another 30 days to go), they feel tremendous guilt at being hailed as heroes when their buddies are still dodging bullets back on the infamous island. In fact, Native American Hayes is so overwhelmed by the hype and racism on the tour that he drowns himself in drink. Due to his embarrassing display, he is willingly shipped back to the front lines (without acclaim).
Though Beach at first doesn't seem like much of an actor, he gets all the tear-jerking scenes, as if being angled for an Oscar nomination. (Tony Curtis did the same role in 1961's "The Outsider.") The other two show some torment, without catching as much of their director's attention.
The battle episodes are spectacular and gory, as per Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan." It's the age-old filmmaking dilemma of depicting the horrors of war, while savoring its cinematic excitement. However, ultimately, "Flags of Our Fathers" is a downer, undoing the glory of the photo that may have inadvertently won World War II.
But Eastwood isn't finished yet. Next year, he'll show us the Japanese side with "Letters from Iwo Jima." (The enemy somehow sent mail out of their secret caves?)
Maybe, Hollywood shouldn't muddy the waters and let the famous photo stand the test of time on its own.