The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
For a fraction of a second at the very beginning of Clint Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima," you may think that you are gazing overhead at a field of stars. In fact, you are looking straight down into the ground, at waves of black sand on the volcanic island where, over the course of five weeks in February and March, 1945, an invasion force of 100,000 Americans (two thirds of them U.S. Marines) fought 22,000 entrenched Japanese infantrymen. Only 1,083 Japanese survived the battle, while 6,821 Americans were killed and 20,000 wounded.
It's a simple establishing shot: a tilt up from the beach where the Allied forces landed to Mount Suribachi, a rocky knob on the southern tip of the island where the Japanese holed up in a network of tunnels and bunkers, and on top of which the famous, iconic image of the raising of an American flag was taken. That classically heroic-looking photo, and the collateral damage from its exploitation as a propaganda tool to sell War Bonds, was the subject of Eastwood's 2006 "Flags of our Fathers," the companion piece (or other half) of "Letters From Iwo Jima," though it doesn't really matter which one you see first.
The opening moments of "Letters" have a cosmic zoom-like effect, taking us from the timeless and abstract (stars/sand) into a specific place and time: "Iwo Jima 2005," as a title denotes. It was on this barren little sulfuric spec in the Pacific Ocean, only about five miles from one end to the other, that so many people fought and died 60 years ago.
"Flags of Our Fathers" ended with a similar motion, going from memory-images of surviving Marines frolicking in the surf, to the Stars and Stripes atop Mount Suribachi and the battleships in the harbor, and finally up into the sky (another reason you might think you're looking up rather than down at the start of "Letters," which begins with a view in the opposite direction from the close of "Flags"). The camouflaged artillery that proved so deadly and menacing in "Flags" are, by the start of "Letters," just rusty relics at a war memorial site. Archeologists explore Suribachi's caves and tunnels, still marveling at how the soldiers ever managed to build them.