This kind of film leaves me furious. Misguided from the start,
"Windtalkers" is hardly a war film; more a pastiche of bullets, blood and loud noises using cliches to somehow find itself
in a story. Was John Woo's only objective to get to the end of the film as quickly
as possible? How surprised would he be if he realized that his audience is doing
the same thing! I may have checked my watch more times in this film than I ever
did during my algebra exam.
Nicolas Cage is Sergeant Joe Enders, a wounded soldier haunted by his past trying to find a way back in
to the army. A friendly nurse (Frances O Connor) helps him get past medical exams
and into the action. He is told that he will "buddy" a Navajo soldier (Private
Ben Yahzee, played by Adam Beach) who knows a code based on his native language. Of
course, by "buddy", I mean kill him if he falls into enemy hands.
I wonder how much of a right the publicity people for "Windtalkers" have in using the fact that it is based
on a true story as a selling point. I never thought I could trust the film, seeing
as the audience is constantly being fed straight-out lies. For one, where did
Woo and screenwriters John Rice and Joe Batteer get the idea that each Navajo codetalker was assigned a white guardian that
would kill him if he were captured? Several of the actual codetalkers have been
interviewed; funny that no one seemed to remember anything like this. Is it possible
that they were never told, or simply cannot remember? Possibly, but then where
did the filmmakers hear about it?
Another less significant example: towards the end of the film, we are told that the code based on the Navajo
language was one of the few that the Japanese never cracked. Quite the contrary;
hardly any of the US Army's codes were ever broken during World War II.
More disconcerting is the fact that we are constantly being told that this is an epic specifically about
the Navajo codetalkers, when the spotlight is really on Enders (Nicolas Cage in one of his worst performances to date). Characters such as Ben Yahzee are constantly pushed into the background; given second
priority over the more "important" characters; the ones who will get the tickets sold.
The only reason they are there is to provide some morality play for an otherwise bland emotional landscape. How can anyone take such a story for granted and then exploit it for all it is worth? That type of thinking kills a film before it ever goes into production.
Of course, the whole thing is plagued by war-film cliches. Let's
see the checklist: Dumb, unrealistic, simplistic examples of racism so as not
to confuse the audience? Check. Supporting
characters dying off so only as to give the star more reasons to cry? Check. French horns and trumpets invading the audience's senses whenever possible? Check. Pathetic, brain-dead enemies? Check.
It seems to be all there just mix that all together with a nice, sturdy editing machine and voila! You have "Windtalkers". Or maybe "Pearl
Harbor". "Behind Enemy Lines", anyone?
These films are practically interchangeable, given that they're all derived from the same, ignorant thought process. If this is what they teach you in film school, I'm skipping.
Now sometimes, very rarely, a war film may be saved, or nearly saved, by well-executed action scenes. "Windtalkers", obviously, is not one of these remarkable exceptions. This time around, there's plenty of blood, guts, and gore, but these scenes don't even scratch the surface
in terms of revealing the horror of war (not that any film ever could). The sequences,
with explosions and people flying through the air all happening in slow motion, fall into the area of self-ridicule, making
them seem more like those laser shows at Disney World than battles.
Someday, someone will come along and make a good film about the Navajo codetalkers. That kind of story should make for a quality film. But in
this case, John Woo should be singing in the immortal words of Bob Dylan: "It ain't