Thursday, February 8, 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima: Another Eastwood Masterpiece

Letters from Iwo Jima is yet another addition to Clint Eastwood's late blooming hot streak as a film director, a suitable and splendidly paced companion piece to his earlier WW2 movie Flags of Our Fathers. Bearing in mind that Eastwood had a mere twenty million dollar budget and had to significantly reduce the scale of the battle in which we meet the Japanese soldiers defending the Island against American invasion, we have all the same where character is constantly tested in the face of churning, devastating battle.

Small ironies, nuanced truths, and personality transformation are all to be had in this rag-tag gathering of island defenders, and it is well managed orchestration of story lines. The cowardly, the brave, the sadistic, the conflicted, the insane and deluded make up the character ensemble--what else would one want from a layered war story?--confronting demons and recall a life they've left behind or a life they've never had as the inevitability of American invasion gathers, literally, like dark clouds. Sappy as this may sound, Eastwood is a savvy enough director to pick up the cues of Iris Yamashita 's screenplay and not allow the character development hijack the harder point of war itself; while the performances resonate grandly (especially the performance of Ken Watanabe as the conflicted General Kuribayashi), it serves as texture, not narrative direction. The battle sweeps,blasts and burns regardless of what bonds the audience might have been formed with the pitiful soldiers, and what remains is a sense of what is destroyed as men are focused on destroying one another.

Long, yes, the movie is long, but Eastwood's style is the slow build; one may say that his slow moving films at least move, in the sense that there is a rich development the range of human quirkiness under duress in the shadow of oncoming disasters and fiascos. Letters from Iwo Jima is very , very fine.

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