Windtalkers


Directed by: John Woo
Written by:John Rice, Joe Batteer
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Peter Stormare, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Frances O’Connor, Martin Henderson, Christian Slater
Released: August 1, 2002
Grade: C

This film has serious problems.  According to the film’s website, it’s about the importance that Navajo Americans had in giving Americans the upper hand during World War II.  At a time when code talk was often the difference between victory and defeat, the Americans needed a code that could not be cracked.  The answer was right in front of them.

As expected, Marine Joe Enders (Cage) has “demons” in his past.  He recently botched a land mission that left most of his crew dead and himself badly injured in hospital.  Foolishly, he wants to get back out in the action to avenge the mistakes of his past.  He bluffs his way through a fitness test and is about to be given an important assignment.

Just arriving to the camp is Ben Yahzee (Beach) - a Navajo Code Talker.  Few people know the Navajo language, least of all the Japanese, and the Americans, despite being horribly outnumbered, plan to use this to their advantage in seizing control of the island of Saipan.  Enders mission is not to protect Yahzee but to protect the code.  If Yahzee were to be captured by the enemy, he was to be killed at all costs.

The film goes through the obligatory ups and downs.  Enders is unforthcoming about his mission and the whole crew doesn’t like working along side these Navajos.  Then the prove their worth by saving a few lives, and suddenly their part of the gang.  Of course, there’s always one who still doesn’t like them but you know he’s going to have his opinions changed in a defining moment late in the film.

I’m tiring of war flicks.  I know they have a purpose and teach us the horrors of battle but aren’t there other interesting topics worth exploring?  Since Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line perfected the genre in the modern era, studios are striving to churn out even more graphic images in search of a “prestige” picture.

Then again, there’s no point continuing this argument because Windtalkers is not a war film.  It is an action film.  Director John Woo made one of my all-time favourite action flicks, Face/Off, but disappeared off my radar after making Mission: Impossible 2.  As bad as it was, at least M:I-2 was just unrealistic action.  Windtalkers tries to disguise unrealistic action in a realistic setting.

I wonder if a film like this gets released in Japan?  The Japanese body count is farcical.  The Americans seem to be able to kill everyone with dead aim and yet their enemy cannot hit a single person.  The only Americans killed are the background extras and those second tier stars in the film who set themselves with stupid comments like “if I die, can you give this to my girlfriend”.  That’s an invitation to die in my book.

The career of Nicolas Cage is officially finished.  Since his Oscar winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas, only Face/Off has made for worthy viewing.  He is pathetically one-dimensional but so is the whole cast against the backdrop of this highly cliched screenplay.  As I’ve said about other poor war flicks, it’s insulting to the actual people who fought and represented their country.  And no, it is not just entertainment.

At 133 agonising minutes, the film hangs around like a bad smell.  I knew within 15 minutes it was trash and then spent the remainder of the evening wondering if I should just walk out.  Someone I saw the film with went to the toilet during with 10 minutes to go and instead of coming back in, chose to wait outside.  He made the right choice.