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Eastwood’s latest effort is an Academy favorite

Erin McGinn | Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a five-part series on the 2007 Oscar nominees for Best Picture.

In a rare filmmaking move, Clint Eastwood decided to make two movies centered around the battle at Iwo Jima during the second World War. “Flags of our Fathers” has an American point of view, while the companion film, “Letters from Iwo Jima” is from the perspective of Japanese soldiers. Although the two films are centered on the same battle, they each have a decidedly different focus and agenda.

The first film, “Flags of our Fathers” portrays not only the American side of the battle of Iwo Jima, but the stories of the three surviving flag-raisers in the famous photograph. After the photograph was published, and subsequently revitalized support for the war effort, Marines Franklin Sousley (Joseph Cross) and Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Navy medic John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillippe) are pulled from their units and sent back to the United States to help raise funds for the war effort. The film is told in a series of interviews and flashbacks to both their time in battle and during the subsequent fundraising.

The film is based on the book by James Bradley (the son of “Doc” Bradley) and Ron Powers. Screenwriter Paul Haggis (“Crash”) chose to structure the film around flashbacks, as opposed to the linear storyline that the book followed. He and Eastwood decided this structure would better allow for parallels to be drawn to the current war in Iraq as well as wartime hypocrisy and the manipulated propaganda.

The second film, “Letters from Iwo Jima,” is based on the book “Picture Letters from Commander in Chief” by General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. The film follows various soldiers, including infantry soldier Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) and General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) as they prepare for and subsequently fight in the battle to protect Iwo Jima. As they realize that they are outmanned and ill-prepared to fight, they begin to question why they are fighting and what they believe their own priorities are.

“Letters from Iwo Jima” is a nominee for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and has garnered nominations for director Eastwood and Original Screenplay.

Although the films can be watched independently of each other without any loss of understanding, they do serve as complimentary works. Several scenes directly correlate with each other, and seeing one film deepens the level of understanding that comes from those scenes when the perspectives of both sides are taken into account. They also bring to light different aspects of war, and by focusing on the same battle these issues are brought to greater clarity. “Flags of our Fathers” questions the motives of propaganda and perception and the consequences of those actions, while “Letters from Iwo Jima” concentrations on decisions that are made in the situation of battle.

Both films serve to question the greater motivations behind war, as well as individual belief systems. In both films the characters make difficult decisions where they must choose to follow what they believe is important, regardless of what their government or others are saying. Even outside of the context of war, these are increasingly valuable questions to ask and are not only timeless, but timely with the current state of affairs in our world.