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Clint Eastwood's New Movie 'Flags of Our Fathers' Offers an Unblinking Look at Heroism

Clint Eastwood's new film 'Flags of Our Fathers' -- about the battle of Iwo Jima in WWII -- highlights the savage fighting between Americans and Japanese on the Pacific island. In doing so, it raises the bar for war movies.

On February 23, 1945, after five days of constant fighting and significant loss of life, the Americans take control of Mount Suribachi, a strategically important hill in the south of the island. To mark the conquest, six Marines and one Navy Corpsman raise the American flag atop the mountain. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal takes their picture. A few days later, back in the United States, the photograph becomes the centerpiece of a war bond drive that raises more than $23 billion and helps America win the war.

Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood tells the story of the men who raised the flag that day, and the story of the soldiers who fought so it could be raised. The film also takes a hard look at the concept of heroism, without diminishing the soldiers' courage and sacrifice.

Of the six men who raised the flag, three survive the battle. Marines Rene Gagnon and Ira Hayes and Navy Corpsman John 'Doc' Bradley are shipped back to the United States to promote the war bond campaign.

Shy at first, Rene Gagnon begins to bask in his popularity. Actor Jesse Bradford, who portrays him, says that back then, there was no such thing as instant celebrity. And yet these men became three of the most famous people in America overnight.

American Indian actor Adam Beach plays Native American soldier Ira Hayes. Hayes is a complex young man who cannot get over the horrors of war and loathes being called a hero because in his eyes, heroes are the ones who gave their lives on the battlefield. "All I have done is to avoid getting shot," he says in the film.

Yet the movie clearly presents Hayes as a hero - a soldier who fought for his unit and his country. Actor Adam Beach says he is proud to be portraying the character. "The significance of a Native American hero shaking the hand of the President... I think a lot of younger generation Native Americans need to see that. To show that we have our heroes."

Ryan Philippe plays 'Doc' Bradley. The Navy corpsman is presented as the most even-tempered and reserved character of the three. But like the others, he had his personal reaction to the war - and to the politics surrounding the photograph.

James Bradley, author of the best-seller on which the movie is based, says his father handled the public's attention better than the others. "There was a flame of fame. Rene Gagnon got burned by getting too close to it. Ira Hayes got burned by trying to push it away. My dad was the only survivor [of the instant fame] because he just cut it all off and wouldn't deal with it."

In "Flags of Our Fathers," filmmaker Clint Eastwood undertakes one of his greatest challenges as a director. This is a dense, complicated movie with lots of action, tough and bloody scenes, and lots of flashbacks. It is a deep, dark movie that takes a hard, unblinking look at the cynicism of politics at home and the naiveté of the public, that looks for ready- made heroes. It is also an uplifting movie in looking at courage, friendship and sacrifice. Eastwood and his cast deliver a memorable film that celebrates heroism with grace and modesty.