Cinema Signal:


Warriors: Navajo code Talkers.


. "Windtalkers"

When director John Woo looks at a script in order to decide if it's a good one for him to do, he must look first for action sequences, on which he has a certain patented style. Or, if not style, at least a body of work that affords him his reputation as an action director. With the historical background of World War II, this story of how Navajo speakers created a code that was unbreakable by the Japanese, provided action in sufficient amounts to satisfy his criteria.

The danger in such an approach is that a particular directorial skill tends toward an overemphasis in that part of a film to the detriment of other parts. Combine that shortcoming with the character needs of a popular actor and you wind up with a miscalculation. It may be based on a slice of historical reality that is nothing less than fascinating but the emphasis is not only off, it's seriously gone astray.

Woo and his story developers apparently felt that the dramatic core revolved around those American GI's who "protected" the Navajo radiomen (here called 'Windtalkers') while on the battlefield, with the assignment to do anything they had to do to prevent any of them being taken alive by the enemy as hostages. Under pain of death, the code was not to be compromised.

And so, we have Sergeant Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage) whose inner demons guide his every thought and action. In this character, we have a creation of extreme anguish bordering on mental instability, but it appeared to the filmmakers to be the stuff of compelling drama.

Nicolas Cage, himself, seems to be as much of the problem as the writing. He completely immerses himself into a morose withdrawal and, when an incredibly gorgeous caregiver, in the person of Nurse Rita Swelton (Frances O'Connor) singles him out for her affection (for reasons beyond anything scripted), we yell and shout at him: 'Go for her! Respond to her! Write back to her!'. But, of course, that's just yelling at the screen. We are to have no romance here. It'll distract from the mental turmoil on the battlefield.

When someone reminded John Woo that he had to retain some kind of female presence in Enders' life, he settled for a one-sided romance. All this tells us is that our hero is one card away from a full deck and not the calibre of man who should be holding another's life in his unsteady hands.

Sergeant Peter "Ox" Henderson (Christian Slater) is the male parallel to Enders -- more talkative, more open, someone facing the same ultimate decision if necessary. Each anglo sergeant has his Navajo 'windtalker'. Enders is assigned an affable private Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach); Henderson gets Private Charles Whitehorse (Roger Willie) a flute player with whom he can create wind instrument duos with his harmonica. Symbolism? Rapping you on the nose.

Rounding out the squad are actors-as-GIs Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt, Noah Emmerich, Martin Henderson, Peter Stormare and Jason Isaacs. Why these men didn't praise and idolize their leader Enders for his unbelievable heroics is another question left unanswered, except for the unbelievable part. And, despite the well staged hand-to-hand fighting, bodies made airborne by the explosives and the familiar action of 103 stunt players, John Woo's flair for such sequences pales in comparison to others. For a glipse of how action can be better coordinated and more integrated with the story line one need not look any farther than Doug Liman's currently playing "The Bourne Identity" and/or Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report".

John Woo and Nicolas Cage do little to enhance their reputations with this one, which is not to say that an indiscriminate war film buff might not get a fix out of the action content here. For others, the most memorable character might well be that angelic nurse. Certainly, Frances O'Connor's beauty as well as the delicate way she portrays her character's selflessness, are not to be forgotten. It's just wasted in the wrong movie.

And, for more details about the fascinating story of the Navajo code men, see a documentary or the next movie that comes along on the subject. If you don't want to wait, read Deanne Durrett's "Unsung Heroes of World War II: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers". This movie barely suggests the reality.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner
                                              Cinema Signals


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Adam Beach and Nicolas Cage, windtalker and protector

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