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BigSPEEGS Goes to the Movies

BigSPEEGS rates this film:



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 me, babe."

Nicolas Cage ....  Joe Enders 
Adam Beach ....  Ben Yahzee 
Peter Stormare ....  Hjelmstad 
Noah Emmerich ....  Chick 
Mark Ruffalo ....  Pappas 
Brian Van Holt ....  Harrigan 
Martin Henderson (I) ....  Nellie 
Roger Willie ....  Charlie Whitehorse 
Frances O'Connor (II) ....  Rita 
Christian Slater ....  Sergeant Ryan 'Ox' Anderson 
Jason Isaacs ....  Major Mellitz 
Billy Morts ....  Fortino 
Cameron Thor ....  Mertens 
Kevin Cooney (I) ....  Ear Doctor 
Holmes Osborne ....  Colonel Hollings

Running Time:  133 minutes
"Windtalkers" is rated R for pervasive graphic war violence, and for language.

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