Sometime this month in Chicago, Clint Eastwood will complete principal photography on his latest movie, Flags of Our Fathers. It's the 26th feature film he has directed since he made Play Misty for Me in 1971. And just as he has done before (The Bridges of Madison County, Mystic River), he is basing it on a best-selling book. But this movie is different from all the others that he or anyone else has directed, for Flags is only half the story he wants to tell.
The book, by James Bradley and Ron Powers, recounts the ultimately tragic tale of six young U.S. Marines who happened to raise a huge American flag atop Mount Suribachi in the midst of the great battle for Iwo Jima during World War II, of how an Associated Press photographer squeezed off what he thought was a routine shot of them doing so that became an iconic image, of what happened to some of those kids (only three survived the next few days of battle) when they were hustled home to be heedlessly exploited by the U.S. government to raise civilian morale and, incidentally, sell billions of dollars' worth of war bonds. That story, rich in darkly ambiguous nuance, would have been more than enough to preoccupy Eastwood's attention for a couple of years.
But when Eastwood tried to buy the rights, he discovered that Steven Spielberg already had them, and so he moved on instead to Million Dollar Baby. Then, backstage at the 2004 Academy Awards (at which his Mystic River was a multiple nominee), Eastwood encountered Spielberg, and before the evening was out, they agreed to a Flags co-production, with Eastwood directing. Shortly thereafter, the project began to elicit an uncommon, almost obsessive, interest from its director. He has not often attempted fact-based movies, and he had never undertaken one that contained such huge combat scenes. He began to read more widely and deeply on the subject. And he began talking to both American and Japanese veterans of Iwo Jima, which remains the bloodiest engagement in Marine Corps history and the one for which the most Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded (27). As for the Japanese, only about 200 out of 22,000 defending soldiers survived. At some point in his research, Eastwood realized that he had to find a way to tell both sides of the story--"not in the Tora! Tora! Tora! way, where you cut back and forth between the two sides," he says, "but as separate films."
So, beginning next February, Eastwood will start shooting the companion movie, tentatively called Lamps Before the Wind, scheduled for simultaneous release with Flags next fall. Typically, Eastwood (who is an old friend of this writer's) is not able to articulate fully his rationale for this ambitious enterprise: "I don't know--sometimes you get a feeling about something. You have a premonition that you can get something decent out of it," he says. "You just have to trust your gut." He asked Paul Haggis, who wrote Flags, if he would like to write the Japanese version as well. The writer of Million Dollar Baby and director of Crash, Haggis was overbooked but thought an aspiring young Japanese-American screenwriter, Iris Yamashita, who had helped him research Flags, might be able to do it. She met with Eastwood, and once again his gut spoke; he gave her the job and liked her first draft so much that he bought it. It was she who insisted on giving him a few rewrites she thought her script still needed.