99 of 110 people found the following review helpful
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...
106 of 124 people found the following review helpful
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.
27 of 35 people found the following review helpful
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.
22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
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.
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2001
this could well be one of the most interesting releases of 2002....the factual stories of the navajos "code talkers" were classified until 1968 and only recently honoured by president bush with a white house presentation of congressional gold and silver medals.this was the only code not broken by the japanese in WW2 and i hope woo was able to use many young navajo actors to portray their revered elders who served their country with distinction after decades in which that same country had all but eliminated their native language...
for those of us non americans who have been priviliged to experience the respect these older navajos command in the areas around gallup,new mexico-especially during the annual "intertribal ceremonial"every august-we,also with a sense of respect,await the release of this story in whatever format that may be....trevor graham;australia
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2002
John Woo goes to war in "Windtalkers," a movie based on a fascinating footnote to World War II. During the combat in the Pacific, the Marines used Navaho "code talkers," who confounded the Japanese by relaying information in their native language, a complex spoken tongue with which few outsiders were familiar. The device proved so successful that the military kept it a secret until the late 1960s, in case they ever needed to use it again.
In the movie, Nicolas Cage plays Joe Enders, a Marine sergeant shattered by the loss of his entire squad in combat. Assigned to "baby-sit" (his words) Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), a newly recruited Navaho code talker, he's told to protect the code at any cost. Translation: Should Ben fall into enemy hands, Joe is to kill him.
Unlike another Marine bodyguard, played by Christian Slater, who befriends his charge (Roger Willie), Joe chooses to distance himself from Ben. That way it will be easier to follow orders. Yet it was following orders that caused the massacre of his men. Showing his medal to Ben, Joe says ruefully, "I got this for not dying. The 15 men with me got it for dying."
Woo is clearly interested in this story. Joe's inner conflicts are compelling; so is the changeable nature of his relationship with Ben. One minute, he's trying to avoid sitting with him during a lunch break; the next, he's pulling Ben out of enemy fire.
Yet Woo, a legendary director of hyperbolic action films (more than a dozen in Hong Kong; "Face/Off" and "Mission: Impossible 2" in the United States), brings his unique wizardry to the war scenes.
"Windtalkers" may be wrapped around the code talker phenomenon, but at heart it's every bit as much of a World War II flick as "Saving Private Ryan" or "The Sands of Iwo Jima." Woo's method of capturing the mayhem and chaos of combat is different from Steven Spielberg's, yet both are masters of kinetic filmmaking. It's as if they were born with an extra visual/editing gene.
In showing us the battle of Saipan, Woo uses everything from sweeping panoramas to vertiginous crane shots to blood 'n' guts close-ups (including a startlingly original point-of-view shot).
These jacked-up battle scenes have an interesting side effect: They help us through the non-action scenes. Much of "Windtalkers" is like a '50s war picture, a reflection of Woo's admitted infatuation with the Hollywood movies of his youth. His characters are out of Pauline Kael's so-called bomber-crew cast list: the city guy, the country guy, the starry-eyed rookie, the cynical veteran, etc. What Woo does so magnificently is to wed the brusquely brilliant B-movie clichés of a Sam Fuller flick with the pyrotechnic expertise of Hollywood, circa 2002.
"Windtalkers" will rightly bring attention to Beach and Willie; both have a distinct, camera-friendly appeal. But the movie's real beneficiary is Cage, who's found a way to bring parts of his Oscar-winning "Leaving Las Vegas" persona to a completely different kind of role. He's the alienated cynic who's also very good at what soldiers are supposed to be good at: killing people.
Joe doesn't believe in anything anymore, yet he aches to believe in something - the idea of dying with honor, perhaps, or finding a role that rings true within the concept of wartime heroism. At times, Cage has the clear-eyed, ironic battle fatigue of William Holden, another actor often cast in roles that revealed the disappointed idealist behind the world-weary cynic.
"Windtalkers" will probably disappoint anyone looking for an in-depth look at the code talkers; and it could turn off those unwilling to work with its retro dialogue and characters. Still, it's difficult to resist Woo's explosive artistry and Cage's reluctant hero. For anyone in the mood for an unusual kind of war movie, "Windtalkers" is talking your language.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
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+
27 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Starring Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater, this is a WW2 film about two marines assigned to protect two Navajo marines who use their native language as a code. Adam Beach and Roger Willie, who are actually two Canadian Indians, play the roles of the Navajos. It seems like an interesting twist on a formula war film. And it certainly is. But the film never does rise above the formula in spite of excellent acting. John Woo, who's known for special effects, directs it. This makes for great battle scenes that are easy to follow. It spite of all the gunfire and hand grenade explosions, we always know where the central characters are. The real story, however, is about the hard choices that Nicholas Cage has to make. He's a fine actor and he does it well. But isn't this film supposed to be about the Navajos? Why then, did the film focus on the white actors? The plot seemed implausible also. Two Navajos were assigned to one small unit in the Solomon Islands. As the Japanese are dug in there, they wouldn't have needed to speak in code to call airpower to the big guns. It was obvious from the start that this was a Hollywood version of what could have been a really fine film. There were so many inauthentic touches throughout that I found myself somewhat amused. The film did move quickly, however, and it did hold my interest. But so what? If the story seems wrong, the finest acting can't save it. Therefore, in spite of Nicholas Cage being one of my favorite actors, I can't recommend this film.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2003
I couldn't be more disgusted. a single well-trained soldier would survive just fine. Apparently someone working on the film told all the actors to charge and never take cover. The military advisor to this film must be as frustrated as myself. John Woo has really fallen far. Windtalkers, Face Off and Mission Impossible II don't even come close to his more famous HK films made with Chow Yun Fat. They're contrived, but not enjoyable. Woo has gone too far. This movie makes films like Battle of the Bulge or Anzio look GOOD in comparison!!
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2002
if there were an award for the worst pictures of 2002, i would nominate this. this movie managed to take a potentially good story and make a mishmash of utter nonsense out of it. nicholas cage's emotions run the full gamut from very angry to very, very angry with absolutely nothing in between or at either end. if one is fond of gruatuitous violence this is the movie for you. i quit watching at the completely improbable scene of the navajo, whom cage was to be shepherding, dressing in a japanese uniform and "pretending" he had captured cage. this only served to allow more staged violence. and, by the way, i noted the deciduous trees on "saipan" exhibiting their fall colors??? where was this thing filmed? numerous grade b saturday morning cowboy movies were more believable.