Letters from Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood, 2006)

I said yesterday I wanted to reserve judgment on Flags of Our Fathers (which I was disappointed with) until I saw this, and now that I have, Flags is still a disappointment, while this is a near-masterpiece.  OK, both films can go together to get “both sides” of the story and separate points of view, and how each culture romanticizes their heroes differently, but hell, I just thought Letters did it better.  Even that idea of getting both points of view is accomplished well enough in this movie alone, with scenes like the reading of the American soldier’s letter from his mother.  It’s a long movie, but just as drawn out is these soldiers’ gradual realization that they’re fighting human beings just like themselves, and not the stereotypes they’ve been taught.  That idea of understanding your enemy, and the age-old war movie message that war is utterly pointless, can obviously be seen with both movies seen back-to-back, but Letters gets down and dirty with it, so that this one movie can encompass that human experience on its own, much more naturally than Flags.  Mostly, it’s ‘cuz that preachy and sappy tone that screwed up much of Flags is almost nonexistant in Letters…here, it’s just images of Hell, infused with flashbacks and internal thoughts that’re more natural and real than in Flags.  We basically get glimpses of many individuals and come to identify with them, from the former Olympic equestrian to the stuck-up outcast whose compassion for a dog got him into trouble, to Ken Watanabe (who I thought channeled the great Toshiro Mifune at some points in an outstanding performance) using a gruff exterior to mask compassion, questioning, and longing for the little things, like cleaning the kitchen floor.  I thought it was all very Malick-esque.  In fact, to me, that combination of utter realism and characters’ internalizations was presented a hell of a lot more fluidly than in a movie like The Thin Red Line.  If I’m comparing this to a movie like The Thin Red Line or its uneven predecessor Flags of Our Fathers, I just have to give much more props to what’s clearly a more involving and narratively compelling experience.  Any worries I had about Clint losing his touch after Flags were gone just a day later. 😀

9/10

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