Director Clint Eastwood takes us on a brilliant two-fold look at the events at The Battle of Iwo Jima, where in 1945, U.S. Marines stormed the island of Iwo Jima which was Japanese occupied territory. Iwo Jima was the first territory fought on Japanese land during WWII. The island was defended by 22,000 troops on treacherous and unforgiving black sand terrain.
The key directive was the capture the high point on the southern end of the island, this point was Mount Suribachi, a 546ft. mountain. Rapid and continuous attacks against the 30,000 troops which landed at Iwo Jima occurred. The Marine Fifth Division were eventually victorious in their directive and raised the American Flag on Suribachi.
Raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi was an event which happened two times. The first time was noticed by the secretary of the Navy whom immediately wanted to the flag removed so that he may collect it as a souvenir. This prompted a second flag raising, where Marine runner Rene Gagnon was given the order to carry another, larger flag to the top of Suribachi.
Upon reaching the top, Marines Ira Hayes (a Native American from the Pima Nation), Harlon Block, Michael Strank and Franklin Sousley were laying telephone line. A water pipe was discovered to be a good flag pole and due to the weight of the old pipe, Navy Corpsman John “Doc” Bradley was also ordered to lend a hand in raising the second flag.
Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped this 2nd flag raising at Iwo Jima. This photo became an awe inspiring symbol of the war effort and bestowed Rosenthal (who actually was accused of staging the 2nd photo), celebrity status and a Pulitzer Prize.
Based upon the book by James Bradley, the son of Doc Bradley, Clint Eastwood adapts the best selling novel and delivers a powerful motion picture where we follow the lives of the three remaining flag raisers who achieved hero status as a result of this solitary act. They were transformed from soldiers to superheroes to tools of the government’s Seventh War Bond Campaign.
The story revolves around the effects of this hero-worship and what eventually catapulted the men into sometime dangerous waters of the mind. Thrown into the limelight without a moment to spare, the young men faced a barrage of promises by government personnel and business people which eventually never panned out. Ira Hayes however who never wanted to leave his comrades cannot come to grips with his given war-hero status and felt the position was undeserved. Battling with these issues, we see his life enter a downward spiral.
Performances were nothing short of spectacular, Ryan Phillippe ( John “Doc” Bradley), Adam Beach (Ira Hayes), and Jesse Bradford (Rene Gagnon) are exceptional and give incredible depth to all of their characters and create amazing realism. It was also noted that during production, Director Clint Eastwood did not always let the actors know where all of the rigged explosions were located. To create this element of surprise along with natural emotions and expressions, the actors were constantly on their toes.
This film is nothing short of spectacular storytelling. In 2007, a companion film will be released, “Letters from Iwo Jima”, which I will be anxiously looking forward to. As the number of U.S Marines which sat in uniform at the rear of the packed 1,200 seat theatre in NYC shouted upon the closing credits of the film… “Hoo-rah, Marines!”.