July 2, 2016

John Wayne, Sands of Iwo Jima


I'm not familiar with John Wayne's work, but my impression of him is that of a stoic, macho man, one who's a reliable presence in films that the boys go to watch, but not quite an actor that is interesting per se. That said, there was absolutely no reason for me to like Wayne or Sands of Iwo Jima. And yet--the film wasn't that bad. It was pretty watchable. Wayne on the other hand, was very much what I thought he'd be.

There's quite a bit that's said about John M. Stryker in Sands of Iwo Jima in the lead-up to his first appearance, mostly about how ruthless the man is. And yet Wayne comes in, made up to look very much like a Hollywood leading man in uniform, and he speaks and interacts with the men around him...and something's missing. He's not really scary. He's doesn't emulate this alleged tough-as-nails marine sergeant. He's actually quite tame, kind of just your typical man's man. Which that in and of itself is fine, that's something I've seen in many a film--but given that this is a war film and given that the crux of this role indicates that you're to be a hardass who's greatly disliked by his men and you are in turn not so...that leaves a little left to be desired.

So I watched Wayne go through his scenes, all the while wondering how a rawer thespian might have approached Stryker. There's a scene in which Wayne gets into a fist fight in the film - a perfect moment to showcase intimidation - and yet he's so...plain and ordinary. He does have some nice, low-key emotional moments that were pretty unexpected for me, but nothing that wowed me. I will give him this: he's a reliable screen presence, one that demands your attention. He's got a effortless charisma to him that keeps you watching. I inexplicably watched him in spite of the fact that I didn't really care for what he was doing. But overall, he's just not doing anything special here, and the fact that he is mostly tepid when he should be going right into the material and bringing an extremeness that matches the world war to which this film rides the coattails of...is disappointing. Unfortunately another standard albeit forgettable "man's man" to add to my running list.


  1. I think this is actually one of his lessor performances but he was gaining traction at this point in his career so the Academy followed suit. He was never a great actor, but he improved over time and "The Quiet Man", "The Searchers" and "True Grit" proved that. Here, he's another bland war hero without much to hang onto. I'm not a John Wayne fan, per se, but he definitely improved as an actor over time ... and you can't even say that about Al Pacino.

  2. I never cared for John Wayne too much but he gave some strong performances when he bothered to really try. Haven't seen this though.