a critiQal film review Windtalkers (2002)

Plot: In the midst of World War II, Sergeant Joe Enders (Cage), although injured, is the sole survivor of his first command. When he is released from the hospital, he is promoted and told of his new mission: He must protect the Navajo code the US is using, at any cost, even if that means killing his Navajo radio man, Yahzee (Beach), before he is captured by the Japanese. They are sent to Saipan, and Enders must discover if he has it within himself to fulfill his assignment.

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  • ...a war movie from John Woo that, while decent, can't surpass Saving Private Ryan.

John Woo directs. Nicholas Cage stars. The last time these two teamed up, we were rewarded with Face/Off (1997). How can Windtalkers miss? True, this one has a bit of a lower tech setting (WWII) and a larger cast, but the Cage/Woo team has worked before. Did it work again? You betcha.

The acting is well done by all the major characters. Cage turns in a decent performance, as usual. He never ceases to showcase a broad range of emotions in whatever role he’s in, and he makes it very believable, no matter what’s being thrown at him. It’s always a pleasure to watch him act. He also has a great supporting cast in this film. Adam Beach, as Yahzee, is a great supporting actor whom I’m surprised I’ve never heard of before.

Christian Slater turns in a good performance as well, as do Noah Emmerich and Frances O’Connor, just to mention a few.

The plot is based on a true story, and is very believable. War creates tough choices, so it’s easy to sympathize with Enders’ tough decision. Should he kill the Navajo, thus saving the code (and who knows how many lives), or will he be overcome by his growing friendship and not be able to bring himself to do it? It’s a tough decision. It creates a great amount of tension throughout the rest of the film, as well, as you know the decision is weighing heavily on his mind during each scene. The dialogue is well done also, and never seems forced.

The special effects, as is typical of war films these days, are well done. I don’t think John Woo really has a chance to shine in this film with his unique shots as much as he has in the past (Face/Off (1997), Broken Arrow (1996), The Killer, Mission: Impossible II (2000), etc.).

There are a few scenes, especially near the beginning, that are reminiscent of his other work, but he tends to shoot this film more by the book. I’m not sure if that is a sign of things to come (I hope not), or if he just decided this film needed a more straight-forward approach. The straight-forward approach works for the film, but also doesn’t let it stand out much from the many other war films out there.

The good performances and the interesting plot dilemma bring this film from mediocre up to pretty good. With John Woo’s inhibitions in shooting in his normal style, however, it still leaves this film a distant second to Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998). A good effort, though.

If you’ve already seen Saving Private Ryan (1998), go ahead and check out Windtalkers. It’s worth it.

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