U.S. Release Date:
June 14, 2002
Director: John Woo
Composer: James Horner
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Peter Stormare, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt, Martin Henderson, Frances O'Connor, Christian Slater, Jason Isaacs
Running Time: 2 hours and 14 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (pervasive graphic war violence, and for language)
John Woo's World War II epic Windtalkers centers on the battle for Saipan and the Navajo Indians who were crucial in America's victory there. Known as "code talkers," they spoke a secret code devised by the military based on their native language. It was the only code that was never broken by the Japanese during the war.
Corporal Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage) is introduced leading a company of soldiers in the middle of a battle with the Japanese. Enders is clearly surrounded and losing the battle; but he fights on anyway despite the protestations of his men, knowing that his orders are to hold his position—no matter what. The fight ends in defeat, and Enders is the sole survivor. This foreshadows the conflict to come, the conflict of choosing between following one's orders and defending one's friends in battle.
Enders feels an incredible sense of guilt because he wasn't able to save his men. He deals with it by shutting out the people in his life who are important to him and seeks another military assignment.
He gets promoted to Sergeant and is assigned to protect code talker Private Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach). Joining his company is Sergeant Henderson (Christian Slater) who is also assigned to protect a code talker, Yahzee's friend Private Whitehorse (Roger Willie). Both Enders and Henderson are told that their mission is to protect the secrecy of the code—that if the code talkers are taken into enemy hands, they are to kill them to protect the code.
Henderson quickly befriends Whitehorse, but Enders resists bonding with Yahzee. However, Yahzee begins to earn Enders' respect and, reluctantly, his friendship. This causes Enders' sense of guilt to only grow stronger: He may be put in a situation where he has to kill his friend. And if he won't allow himself to kill his friend, he will be putting his mission and his country at great risk.
Some of the scenes in the film feel like cheap attempts for dramatic effect. For example, Yahzee is surprised and shocked when he discovers that if he falls into enemy hands, Enders must kill him. He accuses Enders of not being his friend, but never addresses the greater issue of the code falling into enemy hands. The script seemed to conveniently sidestep this all too obvious point in order to have a "dramatic" conflict between these two characters.
Another cheap attempt at dramatic effect is the graphic nature of the entire film. Many of the battle scenes are quite gory and there doesn't seem to be a particular reason for it other than to follow the dominant war movie trend that Saving Private Ryan started.
Even if you enjoy graphic violence, the battle scenes are edited in such a way that you don't know what is going on. Our heroes dive into a foxhole, then the movie jump cuts to more soldiers charging into the battlefield. It's jarring also because only a handful of soldiers were shown entering the fight, yet hundreds are shown dying.
Despite these drawbacks, there is one particularly heroic scene involving Yahzee impersonating a Japanese soldier and Enders playing his POW in order to sneak into an the Japanese camp and use their radio to save the day.
I would recommend this movie only if you are a die-hard fan of the genre or of the actors in the film. With Black Hawk Down, Hart's War, We Were Soldiers released earlier this year, Windtalkers will just give most audiences war-movie fatigue.
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