Sunday, February 18, 2007

Letters From Iwo Jima

I was able to catch Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima" last night.

It was pretty good. I didn't think it was a spectacular masterpiece, but it had some really bright and shining moments. The film, obviously, tells the story of the battle over the island of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers enlisted to defend it from the American invaders.

The acting was capable. Watanabe was good, but I almost think they should have given him, or someone, a really great Mifune style-impassioned sort of speech. It's moments like that in Japanese films that transcend the language barrier.

Overall though, this film was miles ahead of "Flags of Our Fathers". Where Flags was merely interesting, Letters was truly engaging. I think part of the difference was a lack of a Paul Haggis script. I'll make no bones about the fact that I think Haggis is a bad screenwriter and I was glad to see that he only got "story by" credit. (Flags had a very poor structure and seemed cliched.) In fact, everything in this movie too was a bit predictable (who didn't see the bit with the dog coming?) but it didn't matter.

The point of this movie was to put a face on an enemy that for 60 year's we've held was pure evil. It also goes one step further and plays that cliche on the Americans so, for once, we're the bad guys in a movie.

A lot of conservatives have called this movie propaganda because it humanizes the enemy and demonizes the Americans. I wouldn't call that propaganda, I'd call that reality from a different point of view. No one fights in a battle and thinks that they're the bad guy. And, in every conflict, people who don't want to be in a war end up there. And movies like this really illustrate how ugly war can get. The best example of this in Letters is when the commander orders his men to blow themselves up with grenades so that they may die with honor.

It was brutal and disgusting and it actually happened.

The second best example was when the American soldiers shot the POW's they were babysitting. The thing that struck me the most about that moment was that nowadays, Americans don't just shoot prisoners. They do worse, they torture, humiliate and rape them. War is bad, it doesn't matter which side you're on though.

As far as filmmaking, it seems as though Eastwood studied Kurosawa movies. There were little hallmarks of Kurosawa movies that found their way into the film and it did bring a smile to my face.

That being said, I don't think this film should beat Pan's Labyrinth in pretty much any category, for any reason.

This is probably the most rambling review I've ever written, so I apologize for that.

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