Flags of our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima (4 Disc Special Edition) -
Thematically ambitious and emotionally complex, Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers is an intimate epic with much to say about war and the nature of heroism in America. Based on the non-fiction bestseller by James Bradley (with Ron Powers), and adapted by Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis (Jarhead screenwriter William Broyles Jr. wrote an earlier draft that was abandoned when Eastwood signed on to direct), this isn't so much a conventional war movie as it is a thought-provoking meditation on our collective need for heroes, even at the expense of those we deem heroic. In telling the story of the six men (five Marines, one Navy medic) who raised the American flag of victory on the battle-ravaged Japanese island of Iwo Jima on February 23rd, 1945, Eastwood takes us deep into the horror of war (in painstakingly authentic Iwo Jima battle scenes) while emphasizing how three of the surviving flag-raisers (played by Adam Beach, Ryan Phillippe, and Jesse Bradford) became reluctant celebrities - and resentful pawns in a wartime publicity campaign - after their flag-raising was immortalized by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal in the most famous photograph in military history.
As the surviving flag-raisers reluctantly play their public roles as "the heroes of Iwo Jima" during an exhausting (but clearly necessary) wartime bond rally tour, Flags of Our Fathers evolves into a pointed study of battlefield valor and misplaced idolatry, incorporating subtle comment on the bogus nature of celebrity, the trauma of battle, and the true meaning of heroism in wartime. Wisely avoiding any direct parallels to contemporary history, Eastwood allows us to draw our own conclusions about the Iwo Jima flag-raisers and how their postwar histories (both noble and tragic) simultaneously illustrate the hazards of exploited celebrity and society's genuine need for admirable role models during times of national crisis. Flags of Our Fathers defies the expectations of those seeking a more straightforward war-action drama, but it's richly satisfying, impeccably crafted film that manages to be genuinely patriotic (in celebrating the camaraderie of soldiers in battle) while dramatising the ultimate futility of war. Eastwood's follow-up film, Letters from Iwo Jima, examines the Iwo Jima conflict from the Japanese perspective.
Critically hailed as an instant classic, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima is a masterwork of uncommon humanity and a harrowing, unforgettable indictment of the horrors of war. In an unprecedented demonstration of worldly citizenship, Eastwood (from a spare, tightly focused screenplay by first-time screenwriter Iris Yamashita) has crafted a truly Japanese film, with Japanese dialogue (with subtitles) and filmed in a contemplative Japanese style, serving as both complement and counterpoint to Eastwood's previously released companion film Flags of Our Fathers. Where the earlier film employed a complex non-linear structure and epic-scale production values to dramatise one of the bloodiest battles of World War II and its traumatic impact on American soldiers, Letters reveals the battle of Iwo Jima from the tunnel- and cave-dwelling perspective of the Japanese, hopelessly outnumbered, deprived of reinforcements, and doomed to die in inevitable defeat.
While maintaining many of the traditions of the conventional war drama, Eastwood extends his sympathetic touch to humanise "the enemy," revealing the internal and external conflicts of soldiers and officers alike, forced by circumstance to sacrifice themselves or defend their honour against insurmountable odds. From the weary reluctance of a young recruit named Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) to the dignified yet desperately anguished strategy of Japanese commander Tadamichi Kuribayashi (played by Oscar-nominated The Last Samurai costar Ken Watanabe), whose letters home inspired the film's title and present-day framing device, Letters from Iwo Jima (which conveys the bleakness of battle through a near-total absence of colour) steadfastly avoids the glorification of war while paying honorable tribute to ill-fated men who can only dream of the comforts of home. --Jeff Shannon
Customer reviews (av rating: 4.5):
Review for "Letters"--I'd suggest getting the four disc edition as the two special editions compliment each other : A complimentary film to "Flags of Our Fathers", "Letters from Iwo Jima" uses many of the same techniques (including flashbacks during sequences where the soldiers are reading letters from loved ones or where they are thinking of events that occurred prior to their being stationed on the sparsely populated resource poor island) as that film but manages to touch on the personal much better than "Flags". Perhaps its Eastwood's perspective as an outsider to Japanese culture that made him more attuned as a director to these characters in "Letters" either way this film manages to get under the skins of the various characters much more successfully than "Flags" did. Although not as complex in terms of technique, "Letters" is every bit as complex emotionally as its companion piece. Perhaps the less complex storytelling structure allows Eastwood to dig a big deeper under the surface of these characters either way the two films when seen together are much richer than either one alone.
Focusing much of its time on Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) a young reluctant recruit and the Japanese Commander Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) who must try and hold Iwo Jima with limited resources and no support from Japan, the film tells their desperate attempt to hold the island despite their bleak chances of success at fighting the massive American contingent arriving by sea and air. Eastwood manages to convey the fear, doubt and bravery of these soldiers as they tunnel into the mountainside of Iwo Jima taking an unconventional defense tactic which given the massive forces they face is the only chance that they have for success. Holding out for almost six weeks against superior fire and man power, Kuribayashi and his troops beat the odds putting up a heroic fight against a technological and resource superior adversary. Eastwood doesn't sugar coat the battle or the difficulties that both sides face in either film and doesn't glorify the cost of war. World War II may have been the last noble war that the United States was involved in but that doesn't make the cost of war noble or acceptable. There are always heroes on both sides of the battle regardless of whose ideology was right and on the field of battle there isn't right or wrong--just a desperate attempt to fight for your own survival amid the larger concerns that exist outside a small island in the South Pacific Ocean.
Like "Flags", "Letters" looks extremely good in its transfer to DVD. The muted color scheme and look of the film add to the vividness as well as sense of reality that is essential to recreate the world from 60 plus years ago. Audio brilliantly conveys the ambiance of the island and the heat of battle with well placed sound effects. A warning for those expecting another war film in English--this is presented (with the exception of a few scenes) in Japanese since that's what the soldiers spoke. The film is subtitled in English with Spanish and French subtitles available as well.
Unlike "Flags", "Letters" appears as a "special edition" from the get-go. While we don't get a commentary track (Eastwood has shied away from doing a commentary track for years and its probably just as well since he's a man of few but well chosen words), we get a number of terrific extras on the second disc. "Red Sun, Black Sand: The Making of `Letters from Iwo Jima'" is a terrific documentary on the making of the film allowing Eastwood and his team to discuss what drove them to create this companion piece and the complex challenges of filming two very similar films from different perspectives back-to-back.
"The Faces of War" presents the cast introducing and discussing the characters they play in the film. For me it was the second most interesting extra here since even though familiar with military history often do not see the individual faces of the "enemy". Since history is often written by the victory of any battle, these individuals who fought for their country with as much passion as the Allies did for theirs are often overlooked and forgotten.
Perhaps Eastwood's two epics would have fared better at the Oscars if they had been presented theatrical as one epic film since the two require each other as counterpoints. Either way, the two together have much more impact than either alone although of the two I found "Letters" to be the more compelling piece simply because we saw a side we rarely see if films about World War II focusing on the enemy. Watching the two films back-to-back was an exhausting experience but ultimately more rewarding for me since they dovetail quite nicely in their examination of the personal cost of war on the people who actually fight it and don't glorify the horrors of war. Eastwood continues to show amazing growth and talent as a film director proving that director's careers don't necessarily have to burn brightly and fade away as many of our top talents have.
Eastwood's best films - one about the battle, one about the postwar : Flags of Our Fathers took some undeserved flak from a few teenage blowhards & armchair generals because it wasn't the straightforward recounting of the battle of Iwo Jima they imagined. Well it's their loss because seen back to back with its brilliant companion piece, the Japanese language Letters from Iwo Jima, it becomes clear what a twin masterpiece the 77 year old Eastwood has made.
In Fathers the three American flag-raisers come back to the States to be hailed as heroes for having done nothing more than raising a pole. Haunted by horrific memories of combat, surrounded by Government spin that excludes one man who was there & falsely credits another, the Marines just have to bear it as best they can. Eastwood's thoughtful, reflective, melancholy rumination about the gap between combat reality & combat glory is complemented by Letters from Iwo Jima. Evoking amazing emotional power the film takes us deep into the lives of men ranging from a lowly private to a noble General. If Flags was haunted by the sad memories of old men then Letters is all about giving voice to the unknown soldiers sent to their death in a futile cause & denied by their culture even the possibility of surrender.
Both movies are immaculately crafted with memorable performances, beautiful burnished photography that is almost, but not quite, black & white, filled with great scenes both on & off the battlefield & memorable music scores, principally by Eastwood & his son Kyle.
Letters is about the battle & the more emotional of the two as well being the more conventionally told, whilst Flags is about the postwar, is non-linear in it structure & the more intellectual. Both films are less interested in overwhelming the viewer with scenes of battle (although there are astonishingly well done battle scenes in both) than they are in exploring the demands each culture made of its men. Each is impressive on its own but what is so fascinating is that seen back to back they fill in the gaps in the others story & together constitute one of the great cinematic portraits of men in war.
Uncommon valor was a common virtue : The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years. - James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy; 23 February 1945
Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. - Same battle seen from both sides with very different movies.
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS
Every thing going for it and a lot missing. An incredible story of 6 men raising the American flag on Iwo Jima, one of WW2 most famous photographs, a story of one of WW2 bitterest battlefields from which only 3 of the 6 would return. The impact of the photo at home and what became of te 3 men. All based on true life events and a best selling book. A movie made at an great expense, the most expensive movie made in Hollywood in 2005 - 2006. For all that what do we get?
A disjointed story that constantly leaps from on place to another, battle scenes seen without conection or context so there is little feel for the battle as a whole. Mixed in with overly sentimental scenes that lack subtlety and low tone to make a true impact.
I should mention that I was an extra on this movie and enjoyed being on set a lot more than the movie itself. Much of the technical staff had worked on Saving Private Ryan and were saying how much better this one would be, since for the beach scene you had 500 extras as opposed to 200 in SPR and 14 Higgins Boats and LVT where SPR had only 10. Yet the beach scene is no Saving Private Ryan and one never gets the feel of all this effort.
The book is a lot better, the focus there being on the 6 men, their lives before and what happend after the picture was taken. In the movie it is somehow the war bond campaign that gets the best parts and still it is confused.
All the long Flags of Our Fathers movie accomplishes is the feel of a long documentary. Such a loss for a great effort.
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
the companion movie is vastly superior. There the Battle of Iwo Jima has a story line the viewer can follow and the movie makes a good whole. Where as Flags is confused this one has focus. The story evolves around two characters Ken Watanabe as General Kuribayashi and Kazunari Ninomiya as Saigo a young man called to serve in the Imperial army and leaves his young pregnant wife behind. From these two we have a very good overview of the Japanese forces, mentality and spirit. One is the commanding General the other the lowest of the ranks. The story also follows a straight line and sub stories blend in well, other characters only come in through relevant parts and you get a good sense of the Battle of Iwo Jima and its progress. And this time you get it from the "other" side, not our normal American/Allied prospective. For war movie buffs there is plenty to be found, good action and attention to detail. For others a very good movie as well, about people, very real people in fatalistic surroundings in a culture where you accept your fate.
This is a brave movie to be made, one of Eastwoods best.
The two boxed togeather make them a collectors item and the extras look promising, the Battle of Iwo Jima has a special place and the movie production was ambitious. This is the copy I will buy.
By their victory, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions and other units of the Fifth Amphibious Corps have made an accounting to their country which only history will be able to value fully. Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue. - Chester W. Nimitz
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