Since Clint is now taking the Japanese perspective (respectfully and with great curiosity), his latest makes us ask: Was October’s Flags of Our Fathers actually from the American one? Maybe in a fashion. But it seemed more from the perspective of an alien race better known as Publicitus flackus. The true subject of Flags, the manufacture of icons, makes it the superior film. It shows us how wars get sold, by desperate men and lucky photographers.
Letters from Iwo Jima, on the other hand, is a very solid war picture: traditional, humane, a little dull. Tom Stern’s slate-gray cinematography gets an even lovelier workout this time, as Imperial troops dig positions into Mount Suribachi and wait nervously for the better-equipped Allied forces to pound them into volcanic ash. There is a certain poetic fatality to siding with the losers, and Eastwood directs some sensitive performances across the language barrier, particularly Ken Watanabe’s intellectual general and Tsuyoshi Ihara’s celebrity lieutenant colonel Nishi, a former Olympian horse rider. The movie’s sense of doom is powerfully conveyed; one graphic scene has weeping soldiers blowing themselves up with grenades. Overall, though, Letters falls neatly in the category of War Is Hell; Flags was something far worthier of saluting. (Opens Wed 20; Click here for venues.) — Joshua Rothkopf