I was flabbergasted when, a couple of weeks ago, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima made a last-minute arrival on the scene with its Oscar ticket already stamped. You may remember that precisely the same thing happened with the 2004 Eastwood & Haggis Inc. production, Million Dollar Baby. Does Haggis have dirt on the Academy? It's become a legitimate question. Even before many critics with access to advance screenings had seen Iwo Jima, The National Board of Review, Golden Globes, AFI and others had declared it to be among the best of the year. This, despite having (rightfully) ignored Flags of our Fathers, released back in October. The reviews, as they've rolled in, have been positive across the board -- until now. Salon's Stephanie Zacharek has posted a review that lays into Eastwood for "rewriting history" and even attacks the National Board of Review as "hobbits" who expect us to follow their "scroll from Middle-Earth" that decrees the film to be an artistic success.
Zacharek's main charge is that Eastwood has chosen to noticeably dial down the documented viciousness of the Japanese soldiers, lest it conflict with the film's overarching idea -- that their soldiers, like ours, were just frightened kids. "Eastwood can't bring himself to deal with any genuine complexity," she writes. Zacharek also has a big problem with Eastwood showing the Japanese soldiers clutching pictures of loved ones, as if having family makes one moral. "In 50 years are we going to be seeing movies like 'Lynddie England: Misunderstood Mommy?'" Ouch. I guess I have to actually see this film now, to decide for myself.