Rated: R .Grade: BDBB=B
Starring: Ryan Phillipe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Benjamin Hickey, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker, Robert Patrick, Neal McDonough, Jamie Bell, and Chris Bauer.
Summary: This is the story surrounding the picture of American marines planting the American Flag on the top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in World War II. The movie covers everything from the invasion to the taking of the mountain on through to the use of this photograph and some of the men in it for subsequent war bond publicity tours.
Entertainment Value: B What is there to say? Clint Eastwood is a phenomenal director. I have yet to see his contrast piece shown from the Japanese perspective, “Letters from Iwo Jima,” but I expect it to be quite good as well. The acting, the staging, the shotmaking, and the plot are all as historical as I can tell they should be.
Superficial Content: D Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality A, Violence D, Language D, Illegality A. It’s a war movie. There’s a lot of warfare killing and carnage in the movie, much in the tradition of Saving Private Ryan. Also, the characters, being soldiers, swear and drink as well. A large part of the story is how Ira Hayes, one of the Navajo used as the famous “codetalkers” for communications, became plagued by drunkenness, which is shown in the movie. One other note, this movie is unashamed about the naked racism that permeated the culture in the 1940s, and it is shown many times toward Hayes.
Significant Content: B If you want a movie about war heroes and good guys and bad guys, you’ll much prefer the 1949 John Wayne “Sands of Iwo Jima.” This movie is a more jaded look at combat and politics from the perspective of 2007 looking back. The main theme, if there is such a thing here, is the importance of integrity and honesty. One character is a ceaseless opportunist and coward whereas another character is so wracked with guilt and pain that he can barely function in society. America, like all nations, wants heroes out of a comic book, but the truth is often much more complicated. The media and the war machine found an incredible picture to reinvigorate a worn out public at home, even though the image wasn’t exactly what people thought it was.
Artistic/Thought Value: B Again, Eastwood is a master filmmaker, and no one can second-guess his artistic genius. The thoughts and the discussion that this film will generate are all quite interesting and useful. The only real defects in the film are the back-and-forth jerkiness of the storytelling between the combat action and the bond-drive and the underdeveloped characters. It's a bit like Titanic, where the present-day is used as a platform to go back and tell the story but then the present-day is mostly forgotten. Nonetheless, in a two-hour film there's only so much you can do, and this does it pretty well.
~If people today treated Native Americans the way Ira Hayes was treated in this movie, what would happen to them?
~We all prefer a simple truth with clear good guys and bad guys. Is this a problem for us? What does it tell us about ourselves that we prefer such an interpretation to one which is more nuanced and ambiguous? Compare the value to society of having comic book style heroes versus these sort of heroes. Is the Bible more like this movie or more like the comic book?
~Is anyone in this movie a healthy person? Who has a more healthy response to the circumstances he experiences: Ira or Gagnon? Which is worse, a person who feels great pain and turns to alcohol to soothe it or a person who feels no pain in the first place?
~What is your definition of a hero? Is anyone in this film a hero? Do true heroes want to be called heroes?
~What do you think of Ira’s being willing to kill in actual warfare but reluctant to give speeches in favor of that war? How is his ambivalence like or unlike the attitude an American might have toward the decision to use this picture as it was used compared with our great relief at winning a very dangerous war?
~What are some images or pictures which have been really memorable to you, especially if they are about war?
~“A picture is worth a thousand words.” How would that idea relate to this film?
~If a slightly false story truly inspires people whereas the accurate version might not, does the inaccuracy really matter? Does it matter in a way other than just the risk of being found out causing a backlash later on? The story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 is of uncertain authenticity, but it is one of the most significant stories in most people’s idea of who Jesus was and what Christianity is supposed to be about. Should we not teach it, therefore? Compare your thoughts on this fact with the story of the flag-raising photo.
~Do you want to see the sequel “Letters from Iwo Jima?” Why or why not? Do you think other Americans are as eager to see that movie? If not, is this a defect or perfectly normal?
~If you think about widows and children of American marines in World War II, do you ever think about widows and children of Japanese soldiers?
~Many combat veterans experience psychological problems afterward, but even the most realistic of war movies never produces the same effect on movie-goers. Why do you think this is? Do you think we are helped by war movies or led by them into a false sense of really understanding what combat is like?
~What do you think would happen if the wars today, such as in Iraq, were funded by bonds rather than by tax revenues?
Overall Grade: B Very good, not great. But still very good.