Windtalkers (2002)

Genres - War  |   Sub-Genres - Combat Films, War Drama  |   Release Date - Jun 14, 2002 (USA)  |   Run Time - 134 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Director John Woo's sensibilities have always run to the pulpy, comic-book side of the cinematic equation, resulting in the yin of visually gripping, eye-candy action sequences -- and the yang of less than believable emotional content. That's been fine when the material he's tackling is the sort of intense but flight-of-fancy fluff such as Face/Off and Mission: Impossible II, but here Woo is depicting a subject of enormous historical, social, and political importance to the world. Despite a noticeable restraint compared to his other work (the filmmaker clearly realizes that he's in somewhat uncharted territory here), Windtalkers is simply the wrong script for him. He carefully builds a quartet of protagonists with real-life fears and inner lives, then proceeds to turn them into full-fledged killing machine warriors, capable of piling up literally hundreds of enemy bodies to a man, his vision of American soldiers so skewed that it's as if the film wanders from Saving Private Ryan-territory into the realm of science fiction. It also doesn't help that many of the second-half locations are clearly southern California and not the tropical island setting they're doubling for, or that the "windtalking" of the Navajo heroes is really a sideline to the character arc of Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage), only peripherally involved in the code language activities that are supposedly the subject of the film. From The Best Years of Our Lives through Steel Helmet to Ryan, the best images of WWII have always been stark, raw, and uncomfortably, even brutally real, but Windtalkers forgets that, presenting a graphic and exciting, but, at times, absurdly phony Rambo-level vision of war that does its veterans and victims no great service by "amping up" their heroics to superhero level. The audience is more than aware by now that the participants in these battles were all quite heroic enough without Woo's help.