Customer Reviews: Windtalkers [Blu-ray]
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on June 11, 2002
Windtalkers is the story of two American soldiers (one played by Christian Slater, the other played by Nic Cage) who are assigned to protect two Navajo soldiers who work as windtalkers, transmitting messages past Japanese codebreakers using their code based on Navajo language.
Yes, there's a lot of violence. Yes, it's grim. The bodyguards, Cage and Slater, are instructed to kill the windtalkers rather than let them fall into enemy hands.
This is a big war movie, not quite on the scale of Saving Private Ryan, but somewhere between something that grand and magnificent and, say, Behind Enemy Lines. Cage and Slater do a good job with their parts, which aren't very fully fleshed out characters.
Woo's direction used to be so over-the-top and artsy... the fight scenes used to be like cartoons, with bad guy and good guy blazing away at each other with two pistols... the most violent scenes were often preceded by or accompanying flocks of birds taking to flight, and bullet-riddled bodies always seem to pirouet in slow motion before they fall down dead. Woo has left a lot of the old personal director's style out of this one, actually. There ARE a lot of bullets, and a lot of the fighting scenes are very unrealistic (true to old Woo there), and there is one scene very reminiscent of old John Woo, where a butterfly floats gracefully above a river then suddenly a bloody body falls into that river, destroying the gorgeous image, juxtaposing a graceful natural image with a gory violent one, etc.
ANYWAY, mostly this is a shoot 'em up war movie, and the old John Woo style is MOSTLY absent.
The story has that one feature going for it, the protection of the Navajo codetalkers, but otherwise it's a very standard war movie, in terms of plot. Still, this movie comes off surprisingly well.
If you're a fan of the American John Woo movies, like Broken Arrow, or Mission Impossible II or Face/Off, or you liked some movies recently like Black Hawk Down or Behind Enemy Lines, you ought to take a look at Windtalkers. It's not the best war movie of the last few years (I'd vote for Saving Private Ryan for that), or the best action movie, but it is entertaining and memorable...
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on June 27, 2006
As a nephew of a Navajo Code Talker, I would like to express my thoughts on WINDTALKERS.

First of all, if the focus of a Navajo Code Talker movie is supposed to focus on the Navajo Code Talkers and their involvement in WWII, why is the movie centered around Nicolas Cage's character while Adam Beach and Roger Willie play supporting roles?

Second, since a lot of folks are not informed about this part of WWII history, wouldn't it have been a much better movie if they showed the origin of the Code Talkers before they faced the horrors of war in the Pacific Theatre?

My uncle stood proud among the surviving Code Talkers as they were recently honored for their service in the Pacific. (note: at the beginning of the movie, he is the elder in the hat that talks to Yahzzie before he gets on the bus. He also served as technical consultant.) I'm sure after seeing the movie and having survived WWII, I doubt he enjoyed seeing the Code Talkers' back-burner depiction in the film.

Nice "action" movie, though.
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From mid-1942 to the end of the Pacific war, approximately 400 Navajo Indians served in all six Marine divisions, Marine Raider battalions and Marine parachute units as "code talkers". Their job was to transmit military traffic by radio and telephone in their native language. It was a code the Japanese never cracked. This is the inner kernel of the script for WINDTALKERS.
Nicolas Cage plays Sgt. Joe Enders. He's already demonstrated his ability to follow orders. In the Solomon Islands campaign, his unit fought to the last man - Enders himself - to defend some piece of scummy swamp. After recovering from injuries, Joe is assigned as guardian to a newly enlisted Navajo, Pvt. Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), who's a rookie radioman in a Marine recon outfit that's part of the assault on Saipan. Joe's orders are to protect the Navajo code "at all costs", which means, in effect, that Enders must be ready to kill Yahzee rather than allow the latter to be captured by the enemy.
Director John Woo has buried the nugget of a pretty good story in so many dead bodies and special effects that it's virtually lost to view. Woo must have been trying to outdo WE WERE SOLDIERS and BLACK HAWK DOWN in body count. Even when the beleaguered Marines discover they're almost out of ammo, they still manage to mow down the onrushing Japanese in scores. Joe Enders himself, suffering the guilt and rage from being the only survivor of his former Solomon Islands unit, is a one man killing machine seemingly capable of storming Tokyo single-handed. The hapless Ben finds himself put in harm's way as he's forced to trail along after his minder and watch the carnage. The combat action isn't even always plausible. At one point, a Marine infantry column in a valley is having the bejeezus kicked out of it by Japanese artillery entrenched on a ridgeline. Somewhere between the two, the last of our heroes' recon unit is scrambling to recover a radio - the last one on Earth apparently - with which an air strike can be called in to paste the bad guys. Are you telling me that the larger Marine detachment in the valley didn't have its own communications gear to call for help?
I'm awarding three generous stars to WINDTALKERS solely on the strength of Cage's gritty performance as the vengeance-obsessed Enders. And although Beach has extensive screen time as the naive Navajo who must become a warrior while under fire, he rarely serves as much more than a foil for Joe's wild-eyed blood lust. The battle sequences themselves are fairly good, though those in the other two films mentioned in this review are a cut above by far. Quantity doesn't necessarily equate with quality.
If anything, this film may inspire the viewer to do additional research on the role of the World War II Navajo code talkers. That, I guess, is something.
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on October 17, 2002
Synopsis: In the Pacific theatre in World War II, the U.S. armed services developed a secure radio code based on the Navajo language. Navajo servicemen recruited as radio operators, or "codetalkers," were assigned guards to protect them and the vital code they carried - or kill them if they were in imminent danger of capture by the Japanese. Windtalkers tells the story of Marine codetalker (Adam Beach) and the sergeant assigned to guard him (Nicholas Cage) as they participate in the invasion of Saipan. It also follows a similar relationship between another codetalker (Roger Willie) and his protector (Christian Slater).
Joe Enders is a guy with a lot on his mind. First, there is the guilt. As a corporal in the Solomon Islands invasion, Enders abruptly inherited a small unit command when both his superiors were killed - and then just as quickly lost all his men in a Japanese counterattack. The lone survivor of the attack, he is sent to a naval hospital in Hawaii to recuperate, but he conceals a painful injury in order to return to combat. Instead of being allowed to return to the front lines, Joe is assigned to protect a wet-behind-the-ears codetalker named Ben Yahzee. Already traumatized by failing to save his old unit, Joe is in no mood to make friends with Ben, knowing that he might someday be forced to kill him in order to protect the code he carries. You know just where this movie is going.
There's a point somewhere in Windtalkers when the viewer begins to ask questions. And that's not a good thing. Like, with about a bazillion Marines on Saipan, how come there aren't any officers? You've got a gunnery sergeant (Peter Stormare) running what appears to be about a battalion of guys. No knock on sergeants, but I don't think that's the way it's supposed to work, even in the Marine Corps. And at the end of the movie, when a couple hundred Marines with tanks, trucks, and such are getting the snot kicked out of them by Japanese artillery: why is it up to one lone codetalker - in an entirely different location, separated from his radio and pinned down under fire - to call in an air strike? You mean to tell me there isn't a single radio in that whole convoy of beleaguered grunts? How are they communicating with each other, semaphore? I guess that's what happens when you don't have any officers around.
And there are other questions that are ultimately more ruinous to the success of this movie. What is the story about? The codetalkers? Joe Enders? The contrasting relationships between the codetalkers and their protectors? The conquest of Saipan? And how does any sort of relationship develop between Enders and the people in his life when he doesn't say two words to anyone? Early in the movie, the obligatory beautiful nurse (Frances O'Connor) falls for Joe, cares for him, pursues him with unanswered letters throughout the rest of the film - and he never gives her the time of day. Why does she bother? For that matter, it's hard to see why anyone does anything they do in this picture. Characters turn about-face in attitude and behavior so often at the whim of the plot that there must have been a minor epidemic of whiplash during the filming.
Even that wouldn't be such a bad thing if the plot were worth all the contrivances necessary to advance it. Unfortunately, Windtalkers is an encyclopedia of the hoariest war movie cliches: the haunted soldier who watched others die due to his mistakes; the medical condition (call it "Old Movie Disease") that debilitates the hero while somehow allowing him to fight on; the bigoted antagonist who is brought around to see the light; the young newcomer who proves his worth to the unit by an act of stupendous bravery; and so on.
Windtalkers is cliched visually as well. War films like Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, and HBO's Band of Brothers have raised the bar when it comes to realism and viewer involvement. In their wake, John Woo's trademark pyrotechnic style seems dated, even quaint, and his material trivial.
The biggest problem with Windtalkers, though, is Nicholas Cage. Cage is capable of being a very fine actor with a good emotional range, as evidenced by roles in movies as varied as Leaving Las Vegas and Moonstruck. Here, though, he seems clearly uncomfortable in a monotonous, clench-jawed performance as Joe Enders. The script, by John Rice and Joe Batteer, is execrable; but a lower-key actor like Billy Bob Thornton could probably have redeemed it somewhat by injecting a bit more nuance than Cage can summon. The rest of the casting is uneven as well, with Stormare particularly distracting as a Swede trying to fake an American accent.
The wartime contribution of the Navajo codetalkers is interesting grist for a movie. It's too bad Windtalkers doesn't come near to doing it justice.
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You know right off the bat that a John Woo movie is going to have plenty of spectacularly filmed and gory action scenes, and in that sense the movie doesn't disappoint. But the movie is supposed to be about the Navaho code talkers, but the real story there takes a back seat to the many battle scenes where the windtalkers do help win a few actions by calling in artillery and air strikes, but other than that they are really secondary to Cage and Slater's characters and stories. The windtalkers are portrayed in a positive light overall though, and in one close quarters fight scene one of the Navaho's skill in knife fighting and throwing was used to good effect, which I thought was sort of cool since I have a modest skill in knife throwing myself. But the movie could have been so much more if it had told the real story of the windtalkers. I realize this isn't a documentary but it would have been nice if the stories and characters of the Navaho characters had received more consideration and development. I still enjoyed the movie despite its faults, and if you're looking for another John Woo movie with lots of bullets and bodies flying everywhere but not much substance otherwise then this could be for you.
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on November 22, 2013
Being from North Dakota (which has a large Native American population) it's great that the very important role Native Americans played during the war. By using their "native language," observation was able to be freely sent over the radio to the military commanders. The use of Native Americans, and the role they played in helping to save lives, is largely unknown by the American public. This great film brings to the forefront this important role of Native Americans, and is a "must see" for everyone. (You don't have to be a "war-buff" movie lover to be enlightened by this movie. This movie is based on fact, not fiction! We owe the Native Americans a great deal of credit in the war effort.
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on May 7, 2015
too violent and gory. I was hoping to learn more about the role of the Native Americans in this war, their point of view and experiences, but really, there was pretty much nothing to very little about their experience, and the movie was vastly just blood and gore. Very disappointing.
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on April 27, 2016
This movie had very little to do with the Navajo code that was used so successfully in WW II. Instead, it focused on bad acting, a horrible soundtrack, ridiculous scenes of destruction (accompanied with lots of yelling - "ahhhhhhh"), and a few scenes that just don't even fit in. I'm a big WW II buff and this movie was terribly disappointing from the beginning to the end. Don't waste your time as there are so many more worthwhile movies about WW II available.
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on June 10, 2003
"Windtalkers" is another great WWII epic that depicts a little known and seldom-told story of the war: the Navajo Code Talkers. The film did not deserve the bashing it received by critics. One of the reasons it was bashed was because the film was a bit uneven in the editing. It jumped too much in some areas. But that has been cleared up thanks to John Woo's impressive "Director's Edition" of the film. The 134 Minute film has been extended to 153 Minutes, and is much more exciting and balanced in editing and emotion. This just proves that war films work better at a running time in excession of 150 Minutes! As for the DVD, it is incredible. Disc two features a documentary on the real Navajo Code Talkers as well as a Tribute that will have anyone tearing up. As for the rest, pure entertainment (Warning: the Special Features are almost 100% identical to the ones found on the "Pearl Harbor" Vista Series Director's Cut DVD, but this does not take away anything at all)! A must-own DVD!!!!
Movie Grade: A+
DVD Grade: A+
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on September 25, 2015
I have watched this film and wanted to get the Blu-ray. I have kept both the dvd and the blu-ray as the dvd has the special features. It is about a true story, but I do think they take some liberties with it. It still is pretty gritty and very much an adult movie. I think it is not suitable for young viewers and very much deserves an R rating. In saying that, if the blood, language and war scenes will not bother you, then this is a great movie.
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