BY LEAH ROZEN
A photo can vividly capture a moment, but rarely tell an entire tale. This masterful story from director Clint Eastwood movingly reveals the truth behind the iconic 1945 Pulitzer Prize-winning snap (top right) of six U.S. servicemen raising the flag at Iwo Jima during WWII. In examining how the picture came to be and what happened to the men in it, Flags of Our Fathers makes clear that real life is more complicated—both sadder and more inspiring—than a frozen, seemingly triumphant scene.
The three men in the photo who survived the bloody month-long battle were shipped back from the Pacific, hailed as heroes and put on display around the U.S. to help sell war bonds. Preening Rene Gagnon (Bradford) revels in the attention, modest John "Doc" Bradley (Phillipe) is quietly embarrassed (Flags is based on a book cowritten by Bradley's son James), while anguished Ira Hayes (Beach), a Pima Indian, is discriminated against and patronized even as he's being praised. None can forget battlefield horrors (depicted in flashbacks) or the fallen comrades they left behind.
Heroes know better than anyone else whether they deserve the title, and the trio's differing reactions to being lionized (and exploited) is Flags' poignant focus. Beach is the standout here, but all the main actors are solid. Eastwood, working on a bigger canvas than with Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby, again delivers a powerful, and powerfully complex, movie. (R)