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Overall Rating

Awesome: 8.79%
Worth A Look36.26%
Average: 21.98%
Pretty Bad: 20.88%
Total Crap: 12.09%

6 reviews, 55 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Woo-Woo!!! A New War Film Minus The Pretention"
4 stars

For years the war genre was mostly relegated to films with an action/adventure theme that just happened to take place during the time of worldly skirmish. Titles like The Great Escape, The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Dirty Dozen were straight-up excitement for audiences who either lived through The Great One or just enjoyed A Great Time at the movies. When Vietnam became an ugly national outcry and films like The Deer Hunter and Platoon exposed the great horror for the soldiers abroad and their plight back home, it seemed exploitive to create gung-ho macho fantasies about how America could still come out ahead, although Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone and even John Wayne gave it their best shots.

Saving Private Ryan came to be the penultimate evidence in Francois Truffaut’s argument that no movie could be an “anti-war” film because the battle sequences always looked so enticing to anyone who may have played in the backyard with friends and cap guns, no matter how much blood was spilled. Ryan’s plot was drenched in the adventure style of a Where Eagles Dare, but was also a horrific study of men in battle and the politics that weigh on their minds while trying to win a war. In the last year, war films have again begun to dominate the multiplexes and the ones we’ve been subjected to have really been nothing but the giant epic adventures of yesteryear disguised as serious war efforts. Now comes John Woo’s Windtalkers, which eliminates all the pretense of loftier notions of patriotism and simply delivers an exhilarating action film only a director like Woo can deliver.

Woo reteams with his Face/Off star Nicolas Cage as Sergeant Joe Enders, a commanding officer in WWII who all but sentenced his platoon to death by refusing to buck his orders and retreat out of the swampland which they were assigned to hold. After some time in recovery with a busted eardrum and a screwy equilibrium, Enders is helped back into duty by comely nurse Rita Swelton (Frances O’Connor). (Reassuring that Nurse Rita and Kate Beckinsale’s Nurse Evelyn from Pearl Harbor both helped put somewhat disabled soldiers on the frontline.)

Enders’ new assignment is to watchdog Private Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), a Navajo Indian whose native language has become America's secret weapon in translating coded orders. “Protect the code at all costs,” he is told in strictist confidence by Major Mellitz (the cameoed Jason Isaacs) or in translation, if the enemy gets a hold of him, he is to be killed before he has a chance to talk. Sergeant Peter 'Ox' Henderson (Christian Slater, Woo’s Broken Arrow alum) isn’t as battle-scarred as Enders and isn’t sure he’ll be able to carry out his mission with his own “windtalker” and Yahzee’s good friend, Private Charles Whitehorse (Roger Willie).

After the typical getting to know ya chit-chat, we’re off into combat, courtesy of a Saipan battlefield that Woo organizes into a 15-minute sequence that manages to accomplish what so many filmmakers have tried since – to encapsulate, at least, the adrenaline of Private Ryan’s opening invasion. It’s graphic, at times unsettling, seemingly unending, but very exciting. Bullets, bombs, planes, tanks, cannon fire and bayonets all take center stage adding up to an extraordinary action sequence and it’s just the first of many.

There are another five major action scenarios, some involving mistaken coordinates, deception and ambushes, mostly involving the same principals (flying bodies, stabbings and explosions) but none of them any less involving. The nature of such carnage can be upsetting to moviegoers who solely subscribe to the thoughts that the abhorrence of war shouldn’t be reduced to cheap thrills. Woo transgresses though by presenting the situations to reflect both the rush of nervous excitement and the terror of bullets and knifes piercing the flesh.

All of this is fostered by the human element of the film. The ragtag group of white boys (the racist, the hyper-ventilator, etc…) are all there for support and to help raise the body count, but the relationships that develop between Cage & Slater and their counterparts are nicely handled. Yahzee tries to breakthrough through spiritual techniques and talk of family to the hardhearted Enders, who only wants to keep him at a distance in case the day shall ever come, while Ox and Whitehorse (coming soon to NBC, just kidding) form a more even-keeled connection through the use of music. There’s a stirring moment when Enders realizes he may have comrpomised his conscience and his orders and the way it plays out, without the screenplay having to explain it to us, is very powerful, thanks in part to the strong work by these four actors.

The Woo signatures are all there, slow-motion flying birds, two men with guns at each other’s head, two protagonists from vastly different worlds, more slow-motion. But also action! Anyone customary with his Hong Kong efforts, The Killer and Hard-Boiled, bows down in reverence to the man. Most moviegoers know of his American projects like the great Face/Off and the best Van Damme vehicle, Hard Target or even the lackluster Broken Arrow and the disappointingly boring Mission: Impossible 2. Woo is at his best when the bullets are flying and we’re dead front and center. His stories work foremost when the mano-a-mano relationships give us a pathway through the bloodshed as we just want to see our heroes survive their way to the end credits, despite our wishes to perhaps see a few more aspects of the narrative expounded upon. (The “code” is used mainly in-between the battles as opposed to during them and O’Connor’s nurse barely registers by the end.)

Windtalkers is an action/adventure tale, period. It doesn’t flag-wave and romanticize itself around a national tragedy like Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor nor nearly turn Vietnam into a Zucker/Abrahams parody with cliched dialogue like We Were Soldiers. (Both of those, incidentally, were written by Braveheart scribe, Randall Wallace.) Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down took out all the politics of the harrowing battlefield, but also all the humanity, turning his acclaimed Somalia depiction into nothing more than an unintentional video game. War as seen through the eyes of action and adventure has not died, but only remained dormant even during ridiculous attempts like Hart’s War and Behind Enemy Lines. Windtalkers is the real deal and fans of those old school war epics shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying the hell out of it.

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originally posted: 06/14/02 14:20:15
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell good action thats about it 3 stars
8/05/13 SniperSarge I enjoyed the movie 4 stars
11/29/07 Bnorm Shameful piece of dookie. Nic Cage is in no way bad ass. At all. 1 stars
9/27/07 Sugarfoot John Woo has lost it, period. See A Bullet In The Head over this junk 1 stars
9/18/07 Fast Cow i love this movie. natives rule....yay adam beach..... 5 stars
4/19/07 Stevo UK Another film where the hero stands in plain sight killing millions of baddies. 3 stars
4/13/07 David Pollastrini a bit slow in places but still good. 4 stars
3/01/07 Mouse it sucks 1 stars
7/29/06 arvi excellent movie 5 stars
5/19/06 drydock54321 not the best. but ok 3 stars
11/21/05 Quigley the movie would have better if it wasn't so poorly cast. the navajos were the best 3 stars
10/03/05 Hawaiian Shoot me if I ever want to see another John Woo film again! Total waste of a great story 1 stars
8/24/05 ES Here's your 1st hint- directed by John Woo, 2nd- starring Nic Cage 1 stars
2/15/05 R.W. Welch May have the highest body count ever. A few good scenes. 3 stars
2/04/05 Dan Pretty Good actually, kind of hollywoodish, but what do you expect in a Woo Film? 4 stars
1/17/05 Landshark Adam Beach & Roger Willie characters not given development, just orders...*YAWN* 2 stars
12/10/04 Steve Newman Disappointed that the "Windtalker" story was not enhanced. War scenes great 4 stars
8/24/04 albert very good woo 4 stars
7/01/04 "Meth Lab" for Dummies. Not a bad flick... !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
5/10/04 Derek Denfeld I loved the movie. the graphics were soo awesome. i think yazee was the best character 5 stars
1/11/04 The Wizard of Flix Cage thinking Oscar again but only succeeding in presenting himself as Hamlet in a High S 2 stars
11/30/03 john inept! John Woo made his good movies in Hong Kong 1 stars
11/29/03 Agent Sands (previously Mr. Hat) It's OK, but the war scenes are never very powerful. Not up to John Woo par. 3 stars
6/26/03 cochese dissapointingly horrible. 1 stars
6/26/03 J Really cool! 4 stars
6/04/03 Picky critic Great idea for a movie, but everything-especially the fighting scenes--seems very contrived 1 stars
6/04/03 liz we watched it in class and one girl kept on freking 5 stars
6/03/03 Charles Tatum Woo overdirects a corny underwritten script 2 stars
5/16/03 mr. Pink clichèd and Cage's bad. But Woo sometimes excites with his orchestra of violence 3 stars
4/24/03 Andrew Carden Underrated, Misunderstood Drama With Fantastic Performances. 5 stars
4/08/03 Vince kickass explosions and people getting fucked up. no story. 4 stars
2/20/03 Ian Jesus. So poor I could weep. 1 stars
12/23/02 Ryback Good, but not great, liked the music and slow motion 4 stars
11/10/02 Bob Nesbitt Very predictable-seen the same plot in hundreds of war films. 3 stars
10/22/02 cinkcool Good. 4 stars
9/25/02 Carly All Woo knows how to do is blow up things. How about talking about the Windtalkers more. 2 stars
8/30/02 Edith the Maid and Meredith the Mermaid Improtant story, sloppily told 4 stars
8/29/02 Dean expected sooo much more. My mistake 1 stars
8/28/02 viking Better than Pearl Harbour, but a long way behind Saving Private Ryan 3 stars
8/19/02 Mr. Hat (I'm Back!) Another great John Woo movie. 4 stars
8/19/02 stryper rocks Too many gasoline-enhanced explosions. How about developing the Navajo characters more? 3 stars
8/17/02 brainiac adam beach & george willie great; war gore, slater's harmonica & oconnor's role bad... 2 stars
7/05/02 malcolm once again, Woo shows American filmmakers how it's done 4 stars
6/21/02 spaceworm Too loud to hear any talking; lots of wind, where a gentle breeze would do. 3 stars
6/19/02 thejames not the most complex plot but one of the more ENTERTAINING ww2 movies in recent years. 4 stars
6/18/02 Charles Goin Not your typical war movie and that point seems to have been missed by far too many. 5 stars
6/17/02 Todd A slap in the face of all WW2 vets. 2 stars
6/17/02 Waste of money A one dimensional, cliche ridden, corny crapfest! 1 stars
6/17/02 "Yes the shit." A very poor movie. Action sequences sometimes makes no sense. What a waste. 2 stars
6/17/02 Anarchy Azmi nothing but a lot of japanese dying everywhere 3 stars
6/15/02 Nick2k i liked it...but i'm getting bored with war flicks, mr. & mrs. hollywood.... 4 stars
6/13/02 S M I could not watch a lot of this movie because of the graphic violence. I was horrified to 3 stars
6/12/02 Crystrial Murphy I loved the Native actors. The action graphics were extremely surprising. 4 stars
6/07/02 Jaydeep I love most John Woo flicks, but this one really disappointed me. 3 stars
6/07/02 Kris Bates Masterpiece 5 stars
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  14-Jun-2002 (R)
  DVD: 25-Apr-2006



Directed by
  John Woo

Written by
  John Rice
  Joe Batteer

  Nicolas Cage
  Kevin Cooney
  Noah Emmerich
  Christian Slater
  Peter Stormare
  Adam Beach

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