In 1942, several hundred Navajo Americans were recruited as Marines andtrained to use their language as code. Marine Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage) isassigned to protect Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach). Enders’ orders are to protecthis code talker, but if Yahzee should fall into enemy hands, he’s to”protect the code at all costs.” Against the backdrop of the horrific Battleof Saipan, when capture is imminent, Enders is forced to make a decision: ifhe can’t protect his fellow Marine, can he bring himself to kill him toprotect the code? The Navajo code was the only one never broken by theJapanese, and is considered to have been key in winning the war.
Windtalkers really wants to be to World War II Navajo Americansoldiers what the brilliant 1989 drama Glory was to theAfrican-American troops who served in the Civil War. Director John Wooeven has James Horner, music composer on Glory, on board forsoundtrack duties here. While the films share two things in common: Hornerand problematic approach to the narrative (the story of minority charactersis told via a Caucasian soldier), that is where the similarities end.Glory is not only a fitting tribute to those who served, but it isalso one of the finest war films ever made. Windtalkers, on the otherhand, is a melodramatic, clichd bag of wind that squanders a subject matterequally worthy of long-overdue respect.
John Woo has never been known for a subtle approach in his films be itgood (Face/Off, The Killer, Bullet In The Head), bad (BrokenArrow) or otherwise (Mission Impossible 2), and his directing onthis film is no exception. If there is a clich for Woo and screenwritersJohn Rice and Joe Batteer to use from the World War II film cookbook, theyuse it. The characters on screen aren’t really people, they’re stalestereotypes. The dialogue fares no better. It’s as flat as an ironingboard.
Nicolas Cage, after last year’s laughable Captain Corelli’sMandolin, should learn to stay away from World War II films. Here, theol’ Rage in the Cage seems to have gotten his character motivation mixed up.Enders is supposed to be a shell-shocked soldier. Instead, Cage plays him asif he just walked off the set of Resident Evil: a zombie. I guess wecan take some solace in the fact that he didn’t try an offensive accent inthis film like he did in Mandolin.
Adam Beach manages to rise above his thinly written character and turn ina decent performance (given what he had to work with, you could say heturned in a great performance). Christian Slater is merely okay buthis character really doesn’t amount to much, while Mark Ruffalo, NoahEmmerich (as members of Enders’ squad) and Frances O’Connor (as the tokenfemale) are largely wasted in supporting roles. Oh, and if someone can tellme what type of accent Peter Stormare was aiming for, I’ll recommend you fora code talkers job with today’s army.
With the majority of the production hitting the skids big time, I lookedtoward the one thing you can usually count on in a John Woo production – theaction. As we all know by now, Woo is one of the cinema world’s true artistswhen it comes to action sequences and gunplay. Even here though, Woo isflying below the radar. The battle sequences are uninvolving, badly stagedand not very well photographed. To make matters worse, some very old andworn stock footage from World War II is inserted during a battle scene fullof digital effects! Following the stunning recreation of battleships in lastyear’s Pearl Harbor, you have to wonder what Woo was thinking when hedecided on doing this.
The valour of the Navajo code breakers and fellow Native American soldierswho served our country during World War II is a subject that deserves allthe respect and admiration we can give both it and them. A melodramatic messlike Windtalkers is not the way to go about showing it.