In his 70s, Clint Eastwood has found a vigorous second wind as a much-respected director of serious, popular fare. He may have hit a wall with Flags of Our Fathers, a sensitive, clear-headed but bloated and slightly preachy World War II picture aimed at an audience that probably feels Saving Private Ryan is the last word on the spectacular horrors of a necessary war. The elaborate battle sequences that depict the bloody U.S. siege on Iwo Jima are notable for their unaffected look at the young soldiers involved. (They feel more personal than similar scenes in the more expertly tooled Ryan.) But the real subject is propaganda, which the film explores by following three of the soldiers who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi — in one of the most famous of all wartime photographs — after they return home. The screenplay (co-written by Paul Haggis, who wrote and directed the Best Picture-winning Crash) zigzags forward and backward in time and imposes an old-folks-reminiscing framework that the story neither demands nor benefits from. Eastwood’s follow-up, scheduled for early 2007, is Letters From Iwo Jima, meant to tell the story from the Japanese point of view. That could be something to see.
Originally published in the White Plains Times, November 3, 2006