Second World War film directed by Clint Eastwood about the battle for Iwo Jima, a volcanic island in Japan, and the famous photo of marines raising the American flag that was taken there. The battle scenes are great and disgustingly gory. The rest of the movie, about the reaction back in America, is not so strong.
What is interesting is the deconstruction of wartime propaganda. The photo was actually of the second time a flag was raised. A visiting politician demanded to have the first one for himself. The image was interpreted as a sign of victory, when in fact the battle was to continue for over a month after that, and some of the marines featured in the photo were killed.
The CGI in the flotilla and initial bombardment of the island don't look wholly convincing. The battle scenes go on for 5-20 minutes with very little commentary. This is when the film is at its best. It's also good to see another aspect of the war in the Pacific. Most films I've seen about WWII have tended to focus on Europe.
The writing falters in the second half: a writer-figure interviews survivors, being himself the son of one of the so-called flag-raising heroes. These parts feel clunky as the story is narrated over the live action footage. It works better when in Band of Brothers mode where the sounds and pictures need no accompanying narrative.
The sham treatment of the soldiers pictured raising the flag is intriguing. They are reluctant heroes, seeing through the symbolism of the image. They know what really happened and are ashamed to take all the credit for their fallen buddies.
I struggled to put names to characters, which can often be a problem in these sorts of movies. None of the characters is particularly well developed.
It provides an interesting contrast to the infamous flag-raising embarrassment when the statue of Saddam was toppled by US troops in Baghdad in 2003. That was not accepted partly because it was shown live on TV so everyone could see how premeditated it was. Also, it was not appropriate for a supposedly liberating army to raise their country's flag. It looked like they were invading and conquering. It should have been an Iraqi flag they were raising.
One troubling - but probably deliberate - thing about this film was the facelessness of the Japanese enemy. I look forward to Letters from Iwo Jima, which is supposed to portray their side of the story. We Were Soldiers does a much better job of showing both sides in that early Vietnam battle.
Nugget: a bit rough in the writing: a sloppy adaptation from the book; but worth seeing for its battle sequences and brave but flawed attempts to deal with the propaganda and fund-raising war.