Talk is cheap

“From now on, I’m only doing movies where I get to wear helmets.”

“From now on, I’m only doing movies where I get to wear helmets.”

Rated 2.0

I’d like to think that the failures of great director John Woo’s latest, Windtalkers, are not his fault. I’m picturing evil, invasive Hollywood forces sitting down to watch a cut of the movie that better represented the director’s sensibilities, and then forcing him to chop it up to make something more “marketable.”

I don’t know if this is the case. The film has been delayed numerous times, and rumors of post-production wars ran rampant. What I do know is that this is Woo’s worst Hollywood movie.

Telling the important story of Navajo code talkers and the giant role they played in the American armed forces during WWII, one would hope for a film that did these men justice. What we get is something akin to those shitty Chuck Norris Missing in Action films of the ‘80s.

The movie does not look good. The choices Woo and cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball make result in a film that looks washed out and plain. The settings look staged, like actors playing war games in someone’s back yard, and the explosions have a look that is decidedly artificial—I spied a stunt guy flinching before a charge went off. The technical shortfalls become very distracting during the battle scenes.

Nicolas Cage plays Joe Enders, an American sergeant put in charge of “protecting the code at all costs,” essentially playing bodyguard to Navajo soldier Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach). Of course, the focus of the film is on the dilemmas facing the Cage character, with the Navajos treated as secondary in the story.

Shouldn’t this movie be about the Navajos? Granted, the Cage character’s struggle to get back on the battlefield after suffering a major injury in the movie’s opening sequence might’ve made a decent other movie, but it is not well told in Windtalkers.

There was a chance for a good movie here, and I liked the relationship between Ox (Christian Slater), an American soldier with a similar mission, and Charlie Whitehorse (Roger Willie). As opposed to Ender’s selfish reception of Yahzee, Ox and Whitehorse strike up a friendship through music, making the dilemma they face (the idea that Ox would have to kill Whitehorse if he were to fall into the hands of the enemy) quite sad.

Slater is actually one of the best things about this film, delivering a performance with a strong moral core, rather than Cage, who is at his over-the-top worst.

Beach and Willie are both superb as the under-appreciated Navajos, ostracized by their squad and yet saving their asses on more than one occasion. I reiterate that the film should’ve been more about them and the importance of their sacred language, and not simply the big explosion action fare it aims to be.

The supporting cast features a list of your typical war movie stereotypes, including the stupid racist (Noah Emmerich), shown in a villainous light, who will inevitably be saved by one of the men he loathes. Mark Ruffalo, so good in You Can Count On Me, is indistinguishable in this film, and I still haven’t figured out what accent Peter Stormare (Fargo) was trying to capture.

The absolute worst aspect of Windtalkers would have to be the score, an overdone mess by the otherwise reliable James Horner. The music is especially awful and misplaced during a minefield scene, destroying the dramatic tension with discordant, bizarre aural sandpaper. I was reminded of how Hans Zimmer’s musical monstrosity helped ruin Woo’s Broken Arrow.

A great director makes a misfire, and a good story is wasted on a poorly written film that looks like shite. A war film should be painful to watch, but Windtalkers is excruciating for all the wrong reasons.