Windtalkers (2002) / War-Action
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive graphic violence and language
Running Time: 134 min.
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Peter Stormare, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Martin Henderson, Frances O'Connor, Christian Slater, Jason Isaacs, Brian Van Holt, Roger Willie
Director: John Woo
Screenplay: Jon Rice, Joe Batteer
Review published June 17, 2002
Windtalkers seems like an odd vehicle to catch the interest of over-the-top action director John Woo (M:I 2, Face/Off) in many ways. Based on true events, it's more of a tale conducive to human drama than in incredible stunt pieces and yin-yang good/evil confrontations. It also inhibits Woo's use of trademark styles and symbolism, which is what made him noticed as a different kind of director to begin with. Instead, Woo must take a backseat to the story, and in so doing, must actually try to do what he hasn't done in an American film to date: direct to bolster the story instead of working the story to accommodate his action pieces.
The setting is World War II, and Joe Enders (Cage, Gone in Sixty Seconds) is one of two Marines given the assignment of protecting Navajo codetalkers, who befuddle the Japanese troops by giving away their location using the unknown Navajo language. These Navajo aren't as respected by their fellow American troops, and keeping them safe proves a round-the-clock chore. both on and off the battlefield.
While it's certainly an interesting little-known chapter in American history, the tale of the Navajo codetalkers just didn't seem to naturally lend itself to being a great movie. Woo must have figured this out at some point throughout the film, as he veers away from the drama whenever he can for seemingly endless shots of what he feels more comfortable directing, i.e. gunfire and carnage. Such battle scenes, which could have been far more interesting had we truly cared for the characters, not only grind the movie to a standstill, they actually are mostly needless to tell the story and deliver the themes on the tragedy of sacrificing friendship and freedom for the good of the war.
Windtalkers does contain some good costumes and quality actors, yet it's curiously uninvolving as a whole. Cage never seems in synch with the role, leaving the film without anyone to really identify with, and while attempts are made to provide character development, when deaths do start to occur to main characters we have seen so many people die that their deaths seem like just another casualty in an endless string of them. Windtalkers probably won't please Woo fans, action fans, war flick nuts, or history buffs, in other words anyone who might want to see this film. It's a noble endeavor, but whatever seeds of thought were planted in the conceptual stages never bore fruit during the production.
©2002 Vince Leo