I saw Letters from Iwo Jima last night. I liked it. Is it a great film? No. Is it a brave film? Yes.

In a sort of Nixon-to-China move Eastwood, the great American paragon of celebratory violence, goes to the heart of the Japanese enemy and finds men pretty much like the American men they are fighting: fighting for god and country; writing letters home, getting letters from worried mothers with news about stray dogs; men with memories of wives and infants. The Japanese are not quite elevated to the stature of the Americans: there are no thrilling charges over-running American emplacements; the deaths we see are almost all of Japanese, shot, incinerated, blown up, gruesomely self immolated with their own grenades. The faux black and white of the film shot on the volcanic island, at night, in the dark heat of the caves brings us the grinding, terrible contrary of the glory of war. In his reflective older years Eastwood knows: war is brutal on every side. He has an American soldier shoot at point blank range two prisoners he is guarding. He shows the Japanese taking that in and redoubling their resolve to fight unto death. Though not as fully drawn as his characters in Million Dollar Baby, his Japanese officers and men have range and contradiction, a mixed lot — brave and cowardly, even-handed and vicious, funny and stern. We follow three of them in the time-compressed claustrophobia of the caves, preparing for, and fighting, a battle they knew from the beginning they were almost sure to lose. This sense of doom and the conflicting swirl of human courage and fear is the emotional thematic of the film. Though there are plenty of battle scenes — and fine computer renditions of the US fleet stunning the waiting Japanese with its size and power — they don’t overwhelm the human story Eastwood is interested in. If only more of the trigger-happy crowd could share in his maturing vision. Though given the vicious attacks for being a euthanasiast for the final scenes in Million Dollar Baby, it won’t be long before he is forced through the right wing gauntlet for being a “Jap lover.”

[As you no doubt know the film is an Oscar nominee and pairs with his earlier film, Flag of Our Fathers, about the Americans in the battle. The battle for Iwo Jima was a brutal two month cave to cave fight made particularly famous by the iconic image of US soliders raising a large American flag on Mt Suribachi early in the fighting. Some 18,000 Japanese died, and nearly 7,000 Americans. One third of all US Marine deaths of WW II happend in these few weeks on this small island.]