Its 1945, and the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, has become front page news. On returning home, six soldiers are taken on a draining, symbolic public relations tour. They are being presented as the six who raised the flag when in fact this is a lie and, in fact, some of those who did are no longer alive.

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Too many echoes of Private Ryan

Flags Of Our Fathers is an epic World War II collaboration between director Clint Eastwood, producer Steven Spielberg and writer Paul Haggis, who penned Oscar winners Crash and Million Dollar Baby. With a pedigree like that, expectations were understandably high – and Flags can’t quite meet them.

The film is about the photo of the American flag being raised by US Marines over Iwo Jima during the fierce battle for that Japanese-held island. That image became the most famous of WWII and Flags Of Our Fathers shows us how it was used for propaganda purposes.

The surviving soldiers were made to do a bond-tour of America to raise money for the failing war effort. It was a showbiz-style production and they became less comfortable with playing the role of heroes, especially as their mates were still fighting and dying in the Pacific. This is where the film is at its most interesting, in depicting how a split-second event became an image and then a myth to be manipulated.

It’s a pity then that Haggis’s script doesn’t hone in more on the characters so we know them better. Instead, the film is structured over parallel timelines with multiple narrators and the effect is sketchy and distancing. And while the battle scenes are expertly and fiercely realised, we’re reminded far too often of Saving Private Ryan. Similarly, the message we get from the movie – that soldiers in the field fight for each other rather than for a flag – recalls too specifically Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. So, while it’s very realistic and has its heart in the right place, Flags Of Our Fathers isn’t often able to show or say anything we haven’t already heard.

Flags rates three stars for its technical achievement and insight into propaganda. It’s out now on DVD through Warner Home Entertainment and the two-disc set comes with a raft of special features.