Letters from Iwo Jima - Something to Write Home About
| In France, I saw a trailer that previewed both Flags of our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. It presented the two as pieces of a larger whole, put each into context and made me excited for this epic that Clint Eastwood had produced. I haven’t seen this trailer on this side of the Atlantic but I have kept my excitement high for these films which tell stories about the battle of Iwo Jima from two different perspectives.
I love the idea behind them, that there are two (or more) sides to a story and that each are legitimate, that the guy you’re fighting looks an awful lot like you. Eastwood is a very strong filmmaker. His films are very pleasing both visually and narratively. If anyone could pull this off, he could. However, when I saw Flags I was a bit worried. It wasn’t as strong a film as I had imagined. Would Letters be any better?
The good news is that it is. The critics are right; Letters From Iwo Jima is a very strong film. Its story is much stronger and more engaging than Flags. The cast is more competent and charismatic. The whole piece is tighter and more thrilling. Letters is the story of the Japanese soldiers fighting at Iwo Jima. Instead of focusing on the aftermath, Letters focuses on the battle itself, even if what we see of that battle is one sided.
To give him credit, Eastwood has, through Letters improved Flags. The films overlap, scenes exist in both and the themes overlap. Watching the two together would be a powerful experience. Maybe this is how they are intended. Each is a film on its own but together they are a stronger work.
However, neither film is perfect. Letters suffers from a certain bluntness. There are moments that pull you out of the film. These are usually the flashbacks. Screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash) has the bad habit of having his characters blurt out their motivations or sum up the moral to the story in case it wasn’t obvious enough for you. Most of the time it is obvious enough for a schoolchild.
There is a flashback scene involving a dog. The little moral lesson is shoved at us like a hot potato. It comes from nowhere, makes little sense, except to hammer its point home, and it rings false. This is the weakness of the piece and what keeps Letters from being as great as it could be.
But there are powerful moments too when Haggis’ story doesn’t thrust itself in your face like a vulgar stripper. Eastwood films such beautiful devastation. Letters From Iwo Jima is gorgeous and paired with its sister film, makes for a very satisfying evening.