September 11 came and went. War movies came and went... long before Windtalkers made it to theaters.
Last year's Behind Enemy Lines was successful solely because of September 11. Black Hawk Down was successful because it was a well done movie, and moreso because it gave a rare glimpse at modern warfare. We Were Soldiers was successful because it took a different look at the Vietnam war. Then the bubble burst. The WWII drama Hart's War flopped, and it was the indication that the public had grown tired of war movies, especially WWII movies. Saving Private Ryan revolutionized war movies; every WWII film since then (namely Enemy at the Gates) has used the same shaky camera technique. What we get in Windtalkers is more of the same old stuff with nothing new to give the audience a reason to watch.
Windtalkers is about a Marine Sergeant (Nicolas Cage) who is ordered to protect America's new code, based on the Navajo language, at all costs. Fighting in the Pacific, he is there to protect a Navajo codetalker (Adam Beach), or, more specifically, the code that he holds in his brain. As the war goes on, their friendship grows, but in the back of his mind the Sergeant knows that if they are cornered, he will have to kill his friend. Racism, patriotism, and death are all brought into the mix, but is this anything new, or interesting?
The problem with Windtalkers is that it is ordinary. War movies have to be about more than just war, and have to give something new to the audience (moreso than in other genres). Jon Woo is a great action director (Face/Off, for instance), but he doesn't quite understand what makes a war movie tick. It is clear that he thinks that a war movie can be good just by showing a lot of warfare, but that's not true. Even for the most diehard action fan warfare gets tiresome after a while; there has to be something else there that ties it all together. The movie has to be focused on one specific mission, or on a character's relationship, or...
Wait. Windtalkers is about the relationship between Ben (Beach) and Anders (Cage), right? It seems that way at first, but only on the surface. A bond does grow between them, but it isn't very believable. Cage walks around the whole movie brooding about his lost comrades from a previous battle, and he never really opens up to Beach. It is a one-way relationship, even if the screenwriter thought he was doing two-way. Beach makes a likeable-enough character for himself, but Cage's is so bland and boring that it doesn't really matter who he talks to or makes friends with. The most interesting relationship is between Beach and his Navajo buddy Charlie (Roger Willie), because, essentially, they are the title characters and they seem to have a realistic friendship. Unfortunately, Willie doesn't get nearly as much screen time as he deserves.
This brings me to my next point. Windtalkers is about nothing more than showing warfare. Woo goes from one action scene to the next without much purpose, and loses any kind of suspense that he is used to creating in his other movies. Many times, the "dramatic" scenes are cut suddenly as the enemy pulls off yet another surprise attack. The title of the movie is "Windtalkers," yet it is hardly about the Navajo codetalkers. The relationship between Ben and Charlie should have been the most important, not the one between Ben and Joe. A more historical slant would have been nice as well to see how the Navajo code directly helped the first assault the Americans used it in. By the end, all Woo has given us is a seemingly step-by-step, battle-by-battle account of America's takeover of one of Japan's islands, without any historical relevance or character development to keep the audience intrigued.
Windtalkers is not a bad movie, but it is nothing new. Nicolas Cage does a better job than he did in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, but maybe he should consider avoiding the war genre for, say, the rest of his career. His character, seemingly the main character, has no depth, and this is clearly proven by the relationship he forms out of thin air with nurse Frances O'Connor, a storyline that is just dropped and given no conclusion. There are just so many little things that Jon Woo overlooked in this movie that it is hard to believe that he made something as great as Face/Off.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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