For those of you who don’t know the details of the historical incident on which this movie is based, here is a bit of history.
During WW2, the Americans attacked an island called Iwo Jima . This island, located about 1000 miles off the coast of Tokyo was of crucial geographical importance. To the Japanese it provided a strategic lookout point on enemy naval movements. To the Americans the capture of the island could mean a base from which to attack the Japanese mainland. The Japanese defense strategy of the island was considered unique then. The Japanese had burrowed the volcanic mountain near the landing shores in the island, creating portholes through which enemies could be shot unseen. They had also created a network of underground tunnels connecting such portholes. When the Americans landed, the volcanic ash did not offer them much cover and they were shot at by unseen allies. Ariel attack by the Americans did not cause much damage and most of the fight was carried on by men on the ground throwing grenades into the port holes. The battle lasted about 30 days and the Americans won. On day 5 or 6, the Americans had made some amount of headway and had managed to plant a flat on the highest point there. This flag was ordered to be brought down and a new flag put in its place. When the second flag was put up, a photo was clicked and circulated in the American Press. The photo went on to become one of the most famous of all times, winning a Pulitzer in the year of its publication. The American government cashed in on the publicity surrounding the photo by making the soldiers featuring in the photo campaign for funding the war effort. The campaign was a brilliant success and raised more money than all previous campaigns put together.
The movie centres around these three soldiers who campaigned successfully. Ordinary enlisted men (or rather boys aged 20) like everyone else in the war, they catapult to fame, being caught in the right place at the right time. Three of their buddies who also featured in the photo had been killed during the siege. The trio tries to handle the sudden glory cast upon them by the American government, the media and the public. As they go on their campaign from place to place, the movie shows the reality behind their popularity – how chance places them holding the flag, how the picture was intended to be no better or no worse than other war pictures, how they were not killed on account of nothing more than fate and all the other mundane details of the war. The movie also explores the guilt that the men need to deal with knowing they were no better than the others and were lucky to be alive and campaigning. The movie finally is about heroes being as ordinary as you and me, a bunch of men doing their jobs.
The story is both interesting and touching. A quick Google search will give you an idea of exactly how big the episode was and deconstructing heroism of this sort is no mean feat. The movie tries to walk a fine line making its point while not belittling the efforts of the three soldiers. It is also quite entertaining, without slipping into a documentary mode. Perhaps all these points overpower other issues – the movie is not as taut as you would like to be, it is slightly clichéd and repetitive in a few parts and you never feel involved with any of the characters except possibly for those of Ira Heyes and Rene Gagnon.
The verdict though is still overwhelming positive. It needs to be seen if you do not believe in heroes and more so, if you do.