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I learned a lot about World War II from this film. First of all, during
this war it was a custom of both the Japanese and Americans to scream
every time you shoot or get shot (even with about 30 bullets in your
chest you can still scream apparently). Secondly, Japanese soldiers do
not like cover. They like to stay out in the open, and will not fire
their rifles unless they're within 15 feet of American soldiers.
Thirdly, one man with a Thompson sub-machine gun can take out an entire
regiment of Japanese soldiers in an afternoon.
This film was completely first rate, start to finish. From the soldiers who flail about wildly as entire belts of machine gun ammo are pumped into them (before they drop to the ground mind you), to the 12 soldiers that Nicholas Cage shoots with a handgun while laying on his back wounded in the space of about 15 seconds, this film just screamed realism and authenticity. Highly recommended to history buffs and people who can appreciate some of the best acting ever put on film.
I thought this was a film about Navajo code talkers. Well, it's not. While there are a couple of Navajos in the film, the story revolves around Nicolas Cage winning WWII all by himself. This guy's incredible and makes John Wayne look like a wimp. Every time the Marines are in trouble, up jumps good old Nicolas Cage with his Thompson and POOF! the battle is WON! I wonder how we won WWII without Nicolas Cage? The film has a LOT of combat footage and most of that is very well done. That alone is worth a watch but don't expect to learn much of anything about the Navajo code talkers. You should read about them, because theirs was an important part of history, but they're a minor part in this film. I gave it a 6, only because of the good combat footage.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you live in the UK, a good guide to the quality of any movie is the review it gets in the best-selling 'News of The World' Sunday paper. Because the NoW's critical faculties are arguably less than those of an ant, a good review equals lousy movie; bad review: probably worth seeing. On which basis, the endorsement `One of the best war movies of all time -- News of the World' that features on the cover of the UK DVD Collector's Edition says it all: here indeed is one of the worst war movies of all time.
Quite why it should've been so is mystifying, for in the subject of the Navajo code talkers there's a genuinely interesting story: how they were recruited, the dilemmas they faced in signing up to war, the problems of integration, the heroism they showed and the regrettable secrecy that for so long obscured the nature of their contribution. . . in the hands of half-way proficient moviemakers, the code talkers' tale would've made for first class cinema.
Instead we get 129 tedious minutes of pyrotechnic mayhem, and a plot so ludicrous it's astonishing it even survived first pitch: that a codetalker has to be 'protected' by a guardian angel lest he fall into the hands of the enemy. Oh really?
The premise might've had some passing credibility had director Woo understood that remaking 'War and Peace' was not, in this instance, A Good Idea. But no: Woo moves remorselessly from one major league set-piece to another, in every one of which bombs, bullets, bayonets and shells rain down upon the unfortunate Navajo from left, right, behind, in front and above (thus making Nicolas Cage's advice to `make sure you follow my ass if you want to stay alive' one of the transparently daftest script lines of recent memory).
Far from taking care of the windtalker / codetalker, the US Army ensures - in this movie at least - that he has a survivability prospect of thirty seconds. Still, he is assisted by Cage, whose uncanny ability to survive veritable hails of gunfire is in inverse proportion to his ability to act: you'd have thought 'Captain Correlli's Mandolin' would've been disaster enough but no, Cage goes for broke in this one, distraught, depressed, dysfunctional, and alarmingly indiscriminating when it comes to shooting people (his own, and the enemy).
The good news though is that he doesn't get to play a musical instrument.
Two sequences do, however, stand out in this turgid mess. In the first, Cage allows himself to be captured by the enemy whilst pretending to be a prisoner of his Navajo charge, this sleight of hand being accomplished thanks to the fact that Adam Beach (who plays the Navajo) looks, er, Japanese.
Woo seems not to have noted that Beach doesn't even look like a Navajo, let alone a Japanese, but then, nor does the enemy, which for reasons known only to writers John Rice and Joe Batteer decides in this screenplay to implement a policy of actually taking prisoners instead of shooting all Americans on sight.
But perhaps they guessed it was Nicolas Cage.
In the second sequence, Cage rolls drunkenly around a battlefield graveyard, weeping for the souls of all the men who were killed when he was single-handedly taking the Solomon Islands at the start of the movie. (Seeing as they were spared from the rest of 'Windtalkers', it's not at all clear why anyone should feel sorry for them). Anyway, Cage rolls around, and the non-Navajo non-Japanese lookalike Beach comes to his aid. . . and brushes against a cardboard cross which promptly falls over.
Yup. That's how they did it during the war. Buried each individual soldier under a highly photogenic if insubstantial cardboard cross. And never mind the tropical rainstorms.
Still, at least it's consistent: cardboard plot, cardboard direction, cardboard acting.
VERDICT: Depressingly inept; a missed opportunity -- considering the nature of the source material -- and, sadly, yet another question mark over John Woo's career.
I just watched the director's cut on DVD after having seen the
theatrical cut some time ago.
Plot summary: In WWII, a code based on the Navajo language was used to securely communicate between US troops in the Asian Pacific, without the Japanese eavesdropping. We follow two Navajo code talkers and their US Marine "bodyguards" as they go into combat on a Japanese island.
A lot has been written about this somewhat flawed John Woo movie. After having seen both versions, my main disappointment is still that the two code talkers seem like background characters. A movie with a lower budget, without big Hollywood stars put in the foreground would probably have been more satisfying. Maybe that movie should have been done by another director too, I don't know.
Enough good "general" war movies have been made. The code talker part of the story should have been made much more pivotal as was done here.
I'm a fan of Woo's Hong Kong and Hollywood work. The director's cut of Windtalkers doesn't turn a mediocre Woo film into a masterpiece, but it is certainly an improvement.
Main advantages of the DC are more fleshed out characters. You get more background on all main characters, including the two Navajo code talkers. I felt more involved. As a result, the code talker part of the story is served better, but still not enough to my taste. The DC also has more uncut battlefield scenes. Woo really shows his talent here, with raw yet beautifully shot war action. You get the sense that you are in the middle of the action.
I was particularly interested if a scene was put back in where a US soldier takes a golden tooth from a Japanese corpse. This scene was described in several documentaries about censorship by the US Army. Not completely surprisingly, this scene was also absent from the DC.
If you are a Woo fan or already appreciated the theatrical cut, it may be worth checking out the director's cut.
My ratings: 6/10 for the original cut. 8/10 for the director's cut.
When watching the trailer of Windtalkers, one gets the impression that this
film is about the Navajo indians and how their native language was used to
create a code that could not be broken by the Japanese. However, it turns
out that this film is really about a white army seargeant (Nicolas Cage) and
how he eventually befriends the codetalker (Adam Beach) that he is
responsible for protecting.
Director John Woo doesn't disappoint with the action sequences. All of them are breathtaking and highly detailed. However, all of this action tends to take away the emphasis on the story. No matter, the scenes that show the developing friendship between the two seargeants (Cage and Christian Slater) and the codetalkers (Beach and Roger Willie) gives Windtalkers its heart. (7/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This showed up on the history channel and with the husband once again
off playing poker I thought, OK, time to ingest a little more history.
Only to end up retching over yet another Nicholas Cage bad movie.
Now, I just recently saw Con Air for the first time on STARz, so the juxtaposition is unfortunate for his rating, but is he letting his lizard tattoo or Elvis visitations determine his movie selections? Are the script readings done by a psychic? Does he gravitate to stupid characters?
I thought I was going to see something that was about World War II, but actually I got to see a silly film filled with characters I've seen so often I could have written this script myself during a silicon valley traffic jam, and done a much better and far more historically accurate job. They all trotted around after the usual conflicted Sergeant - or is Nicolas Cage always conflicted (see fixations above)? - with a Navajo Indian (instead of a representative of some other ethnic group) thrown in to cause racial tension.
Let's see, we had the bullying racist, who then has his life saved by an Indian (gee, there's a surprise), the panicking recruit who can't take the pressure and trips the mine field (wow, didn't see that coming), the accepting comrade who (symbolically) blends an harmonica with the Indian's flute (but dies saving the Indian's life, ditto, ditto), the young boy who must grow up too soon (ah, the poignancy), the Army lieutenant that treats everyone like tools (not again!), the mystic wisdom that teaches us all a little something, the constantly breathy flute music (used with all cultural lessons) - have we endured this one before?
Not really, because we've never seen quite so many battles, with so many bodies (tossed so high in the air) before, or filmed in Utah while pretending to be Iwo Jima. Was John Woo trying to win some kind of battle-filming contest here? Well, I hope so, because he sure lost a battle with the script.
Of course, we had the added stress for poor battle-worn Nicolas Cage that he might have to shoot his code talker rather than have him fall into enemy hands. Quite the sophisticated plot twist, that! Oh no, will Nicolas get too close and feel bad if he has to shoot his young trustee? More conflict! More angst! Cage's specialty! Makes the story so much better, right?
Better, but not accurate. Reality: the code wasn't the language - it was a derivative, based on, the Navajo language. If someone was captured, the code would be changed. The prisoner might understand the base language, but not the code itself.
Oh, yeah, periodically the Indians, who I believe were the original inspiration for the movie, would get to talk back and forth in Navajo, and we would get to see the translation on the screen. They would say their position (not in actual code). Oh, and one time in the movie, the Japanese noticed the Americans weren't speaking English.
And another time, according to the movie, the Japanese attempted to capture an Indian who was just standing around the front line because somehow they knew he was a code talker. Right. They guessed in the middle of combat that he wasn't Hawaiian or Japanese American, he was an American Indian. And they also had somehow figured out that the language that wasn't English was a derivative of an American Indian dialect, and therefore this man must be a Code Talker. Right there in the middle of the battle. Alrighty then. (It must be similar wisdom that causes me to doubt the veracity of this incident.)
These incidents brought history alive for me, alright.
Reality: Code talkers were translating messages NON STOP throughout the taking of Iwo Jima. Which makes it difficult to understand how the Navajos would have been hacking and shooting away on the battlefield, or standing around the front lines, and going through that growing-up-too-soon stuff. Reality: They were able to communicate three times faster than previous codes had hustled along, but like any other job, the number of messages increased to fill the time available. Seems to be a bit of a discrepancy between busy busy real code talker life and Hollywood. Oh, sorry. That's a duh.
In addition to not understanding the difference between a language and a code (is this rocket science?) the soldiers in the film didn't even wear the right dog tags. Reality: I've got my dad's dog tags from WWII, and you can get a lovely facsimile at the Smithsonian gift store right now. Were they not stylish enough? Was it more exciting to use choke chain dog tags? Every time I saw a soldier I saw an anachronism. As in big fat mistake.
I do appreciate that at least we have a movie in these Politically Correct days where we had two sides to a war: good guys and bad guys. You don't see that very often any more, so points to John Woo for that one area.
But I'm getting away from what was really going on in the movie, which was all about battered, bruised, benighted and badgered Nicholas Cage, who talked to the Navajo like Clint Eastwood talked to the trees in Paint Your Wagon. Not to mention the usual angst-ridden and conflicted stuff he faces. I got very little wind talking, and an awful lot of wind blowing out of this movie.
All it did for the important role the Navajo (and Comanche in the European Theatre) Indians played during WWII was bring them up in conversation - too many inaccuracies to be of any other use.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
-Some spoilers- There's a rule in Hollywood that states, "If you're
making a war-movie, you better make it damn patriotic". With patriotic,
ridiculous often follows. This film presents it's patriotism in FORM of
ridiculous scenes. For example, there's a scene where IL' Nicholas Cage
gets blasted and falls to the ground, wounded. Quickly, a group of
Japanese soldiers start running towards him, but Nick managed to kill
them all in one second... Using one gun... Without even aiming. The
scene made me laugh out loud, and could be classified as one of the
funniest moments in film-history, ever, but unfortunately this gem is
Throw everything you know about films out the window. This film doesn't have a plot, or any deep character. It doesn't have any realism, which is customary for war films, nor does it have any good acting. So what does it have? Lots and lots of action. More action than you can imagine, actually. The film only has one purpose, to show off how the brave marines kill as many enemy soldiers as possible. Explosions, gunfire etc. etc.
Ed Wood could not have done a worse job than John Woo did when he put this film together. It's simply that bad. Gather your friends, bust open a few cans of beers and enjoy the "Plan 9 from Outer Space" of the 21st century!
A war movie done John Woo-style sounded like such a good idea on paper.
The slow-motion action sequences and other typical Woo-ism elements are
often even more laughable than beautiful or realistic. Same goes for
the deeper and sentimental meanings of the movie.
It's obvious John Woo wanted to make a "Saving Private Ryan" realistic like war movie but the movie gets stuck somewhere between Hollywood action/war entertainment and a serious war movie.
The battle sequences look too fabricated and planned out, which is of course a killer for the movie its realism. Sure the battle sequences all look fine and it obvious cost some serious money to make this movie.
Between all of the battles and action within the movie, there are lots of slow moments. Guess it tries to be deep or something, also about the Navajo-culture, in those moments but it instead feels pointless and often like a drag. Same goes for most of the sentiments within the movie. It's also the reason why the movie is quite long.
The movie is an underwritten one that for a genre movie is too formulaic. It's mostly a predictable movie that offers very few surprises or original moments. A shame, since the concept of the movie is definitely an original one. The movie also doesn't bother to tell where and why they are fighting. What are all these battles? Why are they being fought? And yes, of course the movie also finds room to put in a love-story. All of the character also remain pretty shallow one's, no matter how far they dig into their past.
Nicolas Cage just wasn't made for these sort of movies. The movie is filled with some other well known names in it and most of them do a good job. It's not like the acting is one of the weakest elements of the movie but that still doesn't mean that everyone was correctly cast.
It's definitely a watchable movie but its shortcomings just prevent this movie from being a great or really memorable one.
First, the bad: Nicholas Cage's over-the-top, suicidal maniac, idiotic
self-pitying marine played with no subtlety at all. Peter Stormare's
lousiest performance to date, he's been going downhill since the
excellent work in FARGO. Perhaps that one was just luck for him, and a
good script. Excessive battle scenes, so much so as to give the viewer
shell-shock too. For these, a ONE.
The good: both Adam Beach and Roger Willie give solid, well-bodied performances as the Navajo code talkers. The effort to recognize the contribution of the Navajo code talkers is a very positive aspect here, and for these reasons the film deserves a NINE. I give it an average of FIVE.
What's that you say? "Windtalkers is a war movie, not science
Let's see...Cage's character fires his pistol in no particular direction yet takes out large numbers of enemy soldiers who also seem compelled to present themselves as clear targets at the most inopportune moments during the countless firefights.
The bodies of enemy soldiers are hurled through the air in unbelievable symmetry as a result of conventional World War II ordnance detonations that contradict the laws of physics.
While under ferocious enemy attack, a Navajo code talker invokes the code (his native Navajo tongue) to request air strikes from the American battleships offshore. A less dramatic, more expedient request for assistance would have gone something like this: "Holy crap, we're getting pounded here on the island by the enemy! Anything you fellas can do to kill the Japanese soldiers who are killing us would really be helpful! Just look for the smoke, fire and bodies flying through the air!" No code needed, just plain old conversational (albeit very animated) english. No problem if the enemy hears the radio transmission because everything is ... what's the phrase?... happening right now!!!
I saw this movie a year ago during a pre-release studio screening in Laguna Hills, CA. John Woo and about 35 movie industry types (each armed with his or her own water bottle) were in the audience. When the movie ended and the audience members began filling out the obligatory evaluation forms (the price of admission) the stillness in the theater was deafening.
I assumed that the film would be severely re-edited. Apparently it wasn't.
"Windtalkers" was as much about the American Indian's (90% Navajo) unique contribution to our prevailing in World War II as Tom Sizemore's character -- collecting souvenir soil samples -- in "Saving Private Ryan" contributed to the study of geology.
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