The “true story” here, ostensibly about the Navajo code talkers that flummoxed the Japanese during WWII, isn’t even the story, in that a coasting John Woo seems content with cranking out nothing more than a sort of Saving Private Windtalker.
Here the attention is lavished on Nicolas Cage in another of his obviously doomed caricatures, this time around as a battle-sickened sergeant who wanders about with such a perpetually agonized “Why doesn’t somebody just shoot me now…please?” expression on his face that it’s a wonder his superiors don’t just fashion him a suicide mission, instead of assigning him to bodyguard one of the war’s most secret tools, the code talkers.
Of course, it doesn’t really matter, in that the military’s use of the Navajo speakers, as presented in the film, is of absolutely no tactical use, in that all they ever do is call in air strike positions. Um, excuse me, isn’t that pretty much the job of any grunt radioman? It’s not as if the enemy would be listening in and exclaim, “Rats, their radioman just called in the position of our big guns—we’d better move them in the next few minutes before the bombs start to fall!” One expects more from Woo, the heir-apparent of that master of operatic mayhem, Sam Peckinpah, but his efforts here are oddly muted, setting up nothing more than a series of generic battlefield excuses for blood squibs intercut with Cage moping listlessly about.
It doesn’t really help much that the rest of the cast is so genially stereotyped that one feels absolutely no emotion when they inevitably catch the proverbial bullet(s). Actually, there is one interesting character offered up, a redneck gunner who looks and sounds so incongruously like Bill Clinton that it’s constantly amusing to hear race-baiting epithets spewing from his lips. Oh well, one takes his entertainment where one can find it.