A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this harrowing World War II drama isn't for kids. The battlefield violence is graphic, with weapons ranging from tanks and grenades (explosions, flying bodies) to bayonets and knives (close-up assaults, with bloody, ravaged effects visible). The film opens with a battlefield-set nightmare, then cuts frequently between the present and flashbacks to the brutal fighting and the tour, so it's not always clear when the violence will be cropping up. Characters use frequent profanity (mostly "f--k"), smoke cigarettes in nearly every scene (except in the heat of battle), and drink plenty of alcohol, with one man in particular becoming drunk as he grieves his dead comrades and feels guilty for surviving. There's a brief reference to masturbation.
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What's the story?
Structured as a series of flashbacks and interviews, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS focuses on the pain, fear, and calamity of combat, and the difficulties faced by the three surviving flag-raisers captured in Joe Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize-winning World War II photo, whom the government sent on tour across the United States to encourage people to support the war effort. The men include Navy corpsman "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach). Along with the lasting, horrific affects of war felt by the men, the film reveals the irony behind the photo itself, and how the flag-raisers feel exploited by the fundraising process. We also see the hardships of Ira, a Native American who's dogged by racism by fellow Marines and civilians. Ira turns to alcohol to numb his pain and eventually, after retiring from the military, he's found dead at age 33, a victim of "exposure," according to the coroner's report.
Is it any good?
A large, roiling reassessment of the relationships between war, commerce, and mythology, Clint Eastwood's film is at once magnificent and disquieting.
Complex and earnest, Flags of Our Fathers emphasizes that the flag-rasiers most admire their fallen friends, who didn't "think of themselves as heroes." In doing so, the film indicts the war-makers -- then and now -- who have "never been to war" but still send young men to fight, and honors those warriors who saw and committed acts, both horrific and heroic, that they can never forget.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the legacy of World War II, often thought of as the "good war." What gets left out of the equation (pain, violence, other devastating experiences) when people look back and focus on the heroism of war? Is there such a thing as the "true" version of history? Also, how do the men who go on the fund-raising tour realize that they're being treated as commercial products? How do they suffer as a consequence? How does the movie question the notion of "heroism" as it's used to promote war?
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