Review: Windtalkers

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

War movies have been bombarding the box office quite frequently lately. Some have succeeded, like the critically praised Black Hawk Down. Some have come and gone with moderate success, like Mel Gibson's We Were Soldiers. And others have completely flopped, for example Bruce Willisí box office disaster Hartís War. Windtalkers is the latest war movie to join the ranks of these previously mentioned films. Not only does it belong to be mentioned with these fine motion pictures, but also it is one of the best.

Windtalkersí release date has been pushed back quite a few times. This is unfortunate because Windtalkers has not gotten the recognition and press that it would have had it been released last summer like planned. Had it been released then, it would have led off this barrage of war movie, rather than concluded it. But the lack of press in no way should diminish the your initial response to the quality of Windtalkers.

The film opens with a beautiful intro featuring the music of James Horner and air views of Arizona (the actual views are of Monument Valley in Utah.) From there we are taken to 1944 and WW2. Marine Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage) is recovering from an injury he suffered earlier in the war. He is longing to return to combat, when he finally does, (by faking the results of his medical tests), he is assigned to a very important mission. His job is to protect a Navajo code talker, Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach). While Enderís is first frustrated with his assignment and has some initial resentment with Ben, he comes to respect the code talkers.

Windtalkers has all the fixings for a generic war movie, but it is so much more. The relationship between Enders and Yahzee is one we actually care about. It is this relationship that sets this war movie apart from the rest of the recent batch. In my opinion, Windtalkers isnít really about the war, but rather the development of the relationship between the two main characters.

Making a general conclusion about the script, I would have to say that it is well written, but it does have its flaws. The most obvious is the racism card. The tensions between closed minded Caucasians and the Navajo code talkers, while necessary, is done is such a stereotypical manner that it is almost laughable. The Navajo are portrayed as almost God-like with their positive attitudes and constant smiles.

The movie We Were Soldiers did a smart thing by humanizing the enemy. Windtalkers could have benefited by such a plot element. War is devastating for both sides, not just Americans, and in Windtalkers, the constant killings of Japanese is supposed to mean nothing, while the killing of a Marine is everything. The battle sequences would have been more emotional had a such a plot element been employed.

A war movie cannot succeed if its battle and action sequences fail. This is something that Windtalkers neednít worry about. The war action is visually stunning. This is not surprising considering who the director is. John Woo is known for his fantastic action scenes. If you would like further proof, consult the awe-inspiring sequences of Mission: Impossible 2.

Nicolas Cage is a great choice to play emotionally and physically scared Joe Enders. While over the top at times, Cage pulls his weight and-then-some. Adam Beach was miscast as Ben Yahzee. The movie would have been better suited by casting a slightly older Ben Yahzee. However, Adam Beach does a nice job with a role that doesnít really fit him. Also starring is Christian Slater who does a nice job playing a character well within his reach.

From a technical stand point, Windtalkers is flawless. When a flaws do appear, they appear in the script. Fortunately, the flaws donít appear enough to make me not recommend Windtalkers. I felt impacted when I left the theatre, rather than violated like I usually do with such movies.

© 2002 Jake Sproul

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