Worth A Look: 36.26%
Just Average: 21.98%
Pretty Crappy: 20.88%
6 reviews, 55 user ratings
by MP Bartley
Damn you Spielberg. After 'Saving Private Ryan' most film-makers are still playing catch up when it comes to war films and their fierce reality. Serious gore and violence are now the order of the day, and God help anyone trying to douse their film in casual patriotism or standard cliches from the war genre (hello Randall Wallace and 'We Were Soldiers!). Of the latest rash of war films only 'Black Hawk Down' has really made a significant impact, and that's mostly due to it's ability to tell a story about a battle no-one really knew about. 'Windtalkers' unfortunately has no new tricks up its sleeve.All it has to rely on is bombast, cliche and a very rare spark of inspiration.
"Woo does war.Woo-hoo?"
'Windtalkers' is the true story of how Navajho Indians in WW2 were used as code talkers against the Japanese who knew nothing of their language. Due to their importance to the war effort they were assigned to officers who had orders to protect the code 'at all costs'. To kill them rather than let them be captured. One such task falls to haunted Joe Enders (Nicholas Cage) who is given responsibility of Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach) as his company moves up Saipan. Also along is Pete 'Ox' Anderson (Christian Slater) and racist Chick (Noah Emmerich).
It's a fascinating basis for a story (even if historically there's little truth in the order that they had to kill the Navjho rather then let them be captured) as a theme of duty versus friendship is explored, but unfortunately Woo goes nowhere near depth, opting instead for pretty explosions and lots of bangs. Could this be the film where Woo's limitations are exposed? Well after this, 'Mission Impossible 2', 'Broken Arrow' etc it's hard to see where the hype for him comes from. All he seems to do is lots of slo-mo action and people flying around. In slo-mo. He uses so much slo-mo you can't help wondering if those scenes were left at their normal speed if his films would be actually last longer than an hour.
Woo certainly has no idea of how to avoid war cliches. Young soldier pining for home who asks his friend to send his wedding ring home should he die? Yep, he's in here and he obviously dies. That point couldn't have been more obvious if he had painted a giant bullseye on his back and wandered around the battleground shouting "Hey Japs, here I am! Shoot me I've got a life to go back home for!"
Racist soldier who will inevitably have his life saved by one of the Navajhos and undergo a regretful transformation of his former ways? You betcha.
Some late night campfire bonding complete with harmonica and flute playing? Oh, Mr Woo you're spoiling us.
And the wretched cliches spread to all the characters. Gee, Enders hates himself after his previous company all died under his command. Wonder if he'll initially hate Ben but grudgingly grow to like him thus compromising his mission? Well, duh...
Cage, unfortunately has little to do here apart from looking pained. Whether this was intentional or just his reaction to the script we can't know. Suffice to say, his way of showing inner torment is to look like he's suffering from a hangover. Tom Hanks in 'Saving Private Ryan' this is not. Only once, in a graveyard scene does he approach anything near his talent, most of the time his performance ranging from dull and obvious to giggle inducing.
Adam Beech does no better, looking insufferably smug and pleased with himself all the way through for some reason. I swear to God if I had to see him staring into the middle distance just once more, while he related some old folk tale from home, I was going to set off a grenade myself to take us all out of our misery.
Only Christian Slater gets anywhere near a decent character or performance, but like I said, his character gets nothing much to do apart from play the harmonica.
Even in the battle scenes there's nothing new. Yes, gore and grittiness is the new thing, but here..well it's just not new. Especially after all the battle scenes blur into one. Run up some hills, while a bunch of characters we either don't know or don't care about, get blown up. The first one is good, the fifth one? Zzzzzzz...
And nothing, but NOTHING, excuses the horrendous shot of blatantly recolourised footage of warships firing at sea. Honestly who the hell thought they could get away with that? 50 year old footage right in the middle of a sheeny blockbuster. Woo, how much Sake have you been drinking? Have you shot your editors? Someone should be for that.
'Saving Private Ryan' stripped away all the gloss from Hollywood depictions of war and thrust the horrendous reality into our face. 'Windtalkers' would love to do that but mostly fails. There are noble attempts, Enders self-loathing manifesting itself in a comment he started off as a soldier of Christ but changed sides somewhere along the way. There's also some gut-wrenching close combat and shocking savagery on the battlefield.
Unfortunately a lot of the effect is negated by Woo shooting like it's the most exciting game of kid soldiers ever. I obviously wasn't in WW2 but I'm pretty sure there weren't many forward rolls or backflips in the heat of combat.
And I didn't realise that we won WW2 because the Japanese were such bad shots. Seriously. While Cage and co. can leap into a Japanese foxhole and take out an entire platoon with one burst of their machine gun, the Japanese would seem to need to be standing right in front of someone to even just graze them.At one point Enders is running with Yahzee slung across his back, while being chased by about a dozen soldiers. And they can only hit the dirt around his feet. This sums 'Windtalkers' up really. It would love to be profound, realistic and heartbreaking. Instead it's shallow, silly and annoying. And considering the 'talent' involved that's a crime. 'Windtalkers'? It's just a bag of hot air.
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originally posted: 09/14/02 12:02:03