Forty years on from the Dollars movies, and now of an age when most people would be contemplating retirement, Clint Eastwood, at 76, is showing no signs of slowing down.
After winning his second Best Director Oscar for Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood has now tackled the most technically demanding work of his career: a pair of back-to-back movies about the World War II battle for the Pacific island of Iwo Jima, shot from the points of view of both invading American forces and the defending Japanese troops.
Co-written by Million Dollar Baby’s Paul Haggis, Flags… concerns itself less with the battle for Iwo Jima than with the celebrated photograph of five marines and one US Navy corpsman raising Old Glory on Mount Suribiachi. The three surviving soldiers from the photograph are exploited on their return to the States; used as the cornerstone of a cynical campaign to raise funds to sustain the war effort, their idealism bucking under the weight of bitter disillusionment – deftly articulated by the descent of one marine, Pima Indian Ira Hayes (Adam Beach), into alcoholism.
Juggling a number of different time frames, Flags… succeeds brilliantly as a merciless assault on the rewriting of history for political gains, a generous tribute to the men who died in combat, and a study of one man’s attempt to come to terms with his own mythology – the latter, since Unforgiven, a near-constant feature of Eastwood’s movies.
Shot in monochrome, with dialogue in Japanese, Letters From Iwo Jima sticks almost exclusively to the grim action on the island itself. As with Flags…, it sources rich drama from the experiences of the young Japanese soldiers, nearly all of whom will eventually be wiped out by superior American firepower. Eastwood and debuting screenwriter Iris Yamashita are particularly taken by the unflagging perseverance of the Japanese, led by Ken Watanabe’s Lt General Kuribayashi, who are prepared to die defending Iwo Jima – or, in one of the film’s most traumatic scenes, systematically commit suicide rather than be taken prisoner by the Americans.
Taken as a complete whole – this two-disc set is only a limited edition – Flags… and Letters… stand up as one of the most comprehensive and powerful accounts of World War II ever filmed.
EXTRAS: Four different editions available. Flags… and Letters… are sold separately, both including Making Ofs/visual effects/and historical context docs. A collector’s tin-boxed four-disc set is available, too .