Directed by John Woo, starring Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Christian Slater, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo and Frances O'Connor.
'Face/Off' aside, John Woo has never made a Hollywood movie to equal the work he did in Hong Kong. Taking its inspiration from the true story of the Navajo code men who fought in the battle for the Pacific, 'Windtalkers' promised much and offered Woo the real-life events on which to hang his themes of redemption, loyalty and courage. But in a year which has already seen a handful of US films about men in combat ('Behind Enemy Lines', 'Blackhawk Down', 'We Were Soldiers'), it proves to be just another war movie and small comfort to the Woo fans still smarting from 'M:I2'.
Cage plays Joe Enders, a seriously wounded marine unable to escape the trauma that his own stubbornness led to the deaths of a number of comrades. With his inner ear destroyed, Enders could easily sit out the rest of the war in hospital, instead he cons his superiors into believing he's back to full health and is selected for a new mission. With the Japanese cracking many US codes, the Army has decided that Navajo men, using their own native language, are the most effective way to safeguard battle communications. Enders new job is to shadow one of the Navajo code men, Ben Yahzee (Beach). But when Enders complains that the mission makes him more wet nurse than warrior, he is given a chilling answer: his ultimate aim is to protect the code not the man using it...
While Woo orchestrates some truly impressive battle scenes, once the bangs stop and the dialogue starts 'Windtalkers' proves to be a strangely hollow experience. With Cage constantly outshone by Beach and never really conveying the moral confusion Enders faces, the film lacks the emotional intensity which Woo can deliver. Having set up Enders' dilemma it's far too easy to chart the film's journey: we will be introduced to the soldiers who surround Enders and Yahzee, during every battle another one of them will be picked off, Enders and Yahzee will grow on each other only to have their beliefs challenged and finally, one of them will save the life of the other.
Granted, it contains many core themes of the Wooniverse, but the script isn't strong enough, there are too many clichéd characters (the hardbitten commander, the racist grunt, the guy who misses the missus) and you never end up really caring about Enders. Cage, pun accepted, has proved he's good at doing the wounded look, but far more effective here is Slater as the marine assigned to another Navajo radio man and it makes you ask the question: would this have been a better movie with him in the lead part?
At nearly 140 minutes, 'Windtalkers' is an epic trek, even for the most loyal. If you make it, by the close you'll want to learn more about the role of the Navajo in World War Two - but not out of admiration for what Woo has achieved only because he fails to do them justice.