Cage is Saving Private Yahzee
If you watch "Windtalkers" expecting an insightful look at how the Navajo were critical to WWII and played their part in passing codes then trust me you are going to be sadly disappointed. Yet if you watch "Windtalkers" expecting and action packed war movie, full of heavily choreographed scenes full of director John Woo's magic touch then you are going to be less disappointed because that is what "Windtalkers" is. And whilst this is one action packed, heavily manufactured war movie which throws every stylish technique at you as possible it's not one of John Woo's best, lacking a touch of the flare and originality which usually make his movies a visual treat. It means that whilst entertaining "Windtalkers" will leave you feeling like that not only is it an opportunity missed to tell about the contribution of the Navajo but also an action movie which feels overly manufactured and cliche.
After suffering an injury during a battle which saw his platoon wiped out, Marine Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage - Captain Corelli's Mandolin) is just returning to action thanks to a nurse who helps him cheat his medical. His mission is to protect Private Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), a Navajo marine who is crucial to the passing of coded messages, and more importantly to protect the code itself even if it means killing Ben. Whilst initially cold towards Ben, knowing that one day he may have to kill him, Joe grows to like and respect Ben who not only does his job but puts up with the racism within his own platoon. But with war going on around them and the platoon being slowly whittled down this friendship makes life hard for both Joe and Ben.
Now to be frank I knew little about what the Navajo did during WWII other than their language was used as the base for sending coded messages and as such hoped that maybe "Windtalkers" would fill in the gaps. Sadly by the time it was all over I hadn't learned any more as this is not a movie about the Navajo code talkers and what they did. It may feature a couple of Navajo marines but this is a movie about a relationship which forms between Sergeant Joe Enders and Private Ben Yahzee.
Now I am not saying this relationship isn't interesting, there is something quite pleasant as to how Joe goes from being very cold towards Ben to slowly treating him like a friend. And at the same time the element of racism as some marines don't like Navajo's being part of their platoon also provides an interesting layer. But it does all end up rather obvious and if you can't guess that Joe and Ben will become friends then there is something very wrong.
The whole thing ends up very manufactured from the way they become friends to the actual racism and it is highlighted by a cheesy scene where one of the marines says that in 50 years maybe Americans will be drinking Saki with Jap friends. It's a case of subtle not being in the vocabulary of John Woo and he delivers every element of the storyline in a very forced manner. And it's not just the friendship and racism elements as there is also the element of Joe being haunted by the memory of a previous failed mission where his platoon were killed and he suffered injuries including the loss of his hearing. Talking of which the injury side of thing seems rather strange as it introduces a female nurse called Frances who appears to be fond of Joe but the actual storyline goes nowhere other than her writing him letters.
And so what this really boils down to is that "Windtalkers" is a John Woo action movie full of heavily choreographed scenes full of explosions, gun fire and an overkill of slow motion. Yes it looks quite impressive as mines go off next to soldiers before they fly through the air but it also ends up quite cheesy. The abundance of slow motion becomes painful but not as painful as all the over the top heroics of soldiers who instead of crawling to safety have to do a roll or go all commando killing more people than I am sure their guns have ammo for. It all borders on the fantasy, the stuff young boys use to play at when it wasn't politically incorrect to play with pretend guns but it feels wrong because it's lacking a certain amount of style which you come to expect from John Woo.
And sadly whilst it often feels cheesy the actual performances don't help matters as we have very forced characters delivering very forced dialogue. Nicolas Cage as the troubled Joe Enders seems to be one big cliche as does Christian Slater and Noah Emmerich who play two further marines whilst Mark Ruffalo seems to have been cast because he can pull off an Errol Flynn look. It gets no better when it comes to Adam Beach who plays Navajo code talker Private Ben Yahzee because once more we have a cliche, a nice guy, a bit wet behind the ears when it comes to the brutality of war. In many a way the performances of these actors and various others end up in tune with the style of the movie, that being manufactured and a bit cheesy.
The daft thing is that whilst all these faults are very obvious there is something entertaining about "Windtalkers". Maybe it's the little boy in me who used to pretend to be fighting in WWII enjoying the fantasy aspect of it all, the over the top heroics being played out on screen. Maybe whilst not one of John Woo's best action movies the theatrical aspect of the action still entertains even when it is cheesy. There is just something about it which keeps it entertaining despite it being not the best movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Windtalkers" ends up a very obvious and very manufactured war movie filled with heavily orchestrated action. It may use Navajo code talkers as its basis but it doesn't expand on what they did in the war and turns into the stuff of boyhood fantasy with soldiers going commando with over the top heroics as they face death squarely in the face. It does entertain but it also disappoints and is one of those movies that it you are not in a forgiving mood all that is wrong about it will end up annoying the crap out of you.