Movie Review: Windtalkers

By Erik Petersen
Movie Magazine International
Director John Woo’s “Windtalkers” is based on the true story of America’s use of Navajo Indians in World War II to relay coded messages. Nicolas Cage stars as Sergeant Joe Enders. He’s assigned, along with Christian Slater’s Sergeant Ox, to protect two code talkers. Their actual orders are to protect the code, at all costs. This means they must prevent the Navajos from being captured, even if it means killing them.

Since moving from Hong Kong to Hollywood director John Woo has had commercial success with films like “Broken Arrow” and “Face/Off” but as much as he’s been praised for his cinematic artistry he’s been unwilling or uninterested in tackling more emotionally complex fare. Here he attempts a picture that grapples with everything from America’s treatment of Native Americans to a soldier’s moral obligations. The results are horrendous.

The Navajo are portrayed as proud and unflagging in their support of America. Despite the jeers and barbs they suffer from the white men in their unit they turn the other cheek. In one scene, after being rebuffed by the men Private Whitehorse is consoling himself with a handmade flute. The sympathetic Sergeant Ox offers to join him on his harmonica. Private Whitehorse recalls the solemn advice his father once gave him, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” What utter nonsense. I suppose I would’ve found this film insulting in its portrayal of Native Americans if it hadn’t done such a bad job of portraying every character as some kind of paper-thin stereotype. Naturally there’s the Southern bigot who’s been raised to hate “Injuns”. Then there’s the Greek who dreams of opening a restaurant when he gets home. Christian Slater’s Sergeant Ox actually tells the men that when he gets home he plans to sell something from France called, “Yogurt.” He thinks it just might be popular in America. I swear I’m not making this up.

Probably more offensive than any of the absurd stereotypes or ridiculous dialogue is Nicholas Cage’s acting. Since winning an Academy Award for the 1995 film “Leaving Los Vegas,” he’s gone on to star in such winners as “City of Angels”, “8MM”, “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “The Family Man”, just to name a few. Christ this guy was more eager to cash in then Jed Clampett.

Cage’s portrayal of the haunted Sergeant Enders rings so false. From his stint in the VA hospital where he’s unconvincing as a shell-shocked vet who can’t walk straight to his emotionally tortured alcoholic melancholy. I’ve seen all of these shticks before; they’re just Mr. Cage hamming it up. What a farce.

Of course “Windtalkers” is a John Woo film and that means prolonged battle scenes filmed with a Peckinpah -like ballet of blood and bullets. I found these scenes bombastic and monotonous. After all, if you don’t care whether the characters live or die what’s the point? I’m Erik Petersen for Movie Magazine.
More Information:
USA - 2002