Not since Black Hawk Down has a war film been this harrowing or graphic. Windtalkers delivers.
Windtalkers takes place during the Pacific conflict of World War II. A battered, bruised and nearly deaf soldier named Sgt. Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage) is assigned to a new unit after the tragic ending of his last mission. Enders is assigned to protect a "code-talker" while in combat. His code-talker is a Navajo Indian named Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach) who has been trained to use his native language in combat as a code. Joe has been sworn to protect the code over the man who conveys it. If his code-talker falls into enemy hands he must be executed. Enders knows nothing but fighting the war and even the love of a nurse (Frances O'Connor) can't sway Joe from re-entering the conflict.
Director John Woo's scope in capturing the Pacific conflict is utterly harsh and realistic. The battle scenes are pure horror and depict the essence of war. Woo makes Pearl Harbor and We Were Soldiers look like Kindergarten for recruits. Like Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan, audiences won't easily forget these war scenes. Woo also is able to capture the psychosis of war through the disgruntled but purest soldier, Joe Enders.
Windtalkers was slated to debut before Black Hawk Down, but because of the events of September 11th, it was delayed. If this film had opened around the same time as Black Hawk Down, you would have had a lot of debates between the films. With films like Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan, and now Windtalkers, Hollywood really has to be careful on how they display war. These films are landmarks in graphic violence but also in depicting the realism of armed conflict. War is hell, and these films do it justice.
The showcase of Windtalkers is probably the methodical depiction of battle, but hidden within that showcase are two rather engaging performances. Star Nicolas Cage reawakens the style and substance he endured as an actor when he won his Academy Award for Leaving Las Vegas with his performance of Joe Enders. Cage really brings us into the psychosis of this soldier who is struggling to maintain his sanity and also carry out his duty. I liked Cage a lot in the film's early hospital scenes, where he is struggling to get back to being a man. I also liked him when he would have run-ins with Yahzee over battle decisions. The other engaging performance is from Adam Beach (Smoke Signals and Squanto: A Warrior's Tale) who brings realism to Yahzee, which is very hard to do when you are surrounded by so many visuals. In some scenes, Beach out-acts veteran Cage, but in the end Cage does shine.
There will be some speculation and debate on how the film plays the "race" card. There is a lot of conflict between the Indian code-talkers and some of the "red-neck" Marines. In maintaining a realistic assumption of the times, that could have been the case, but the speculation will come -- was it this bad or graphic?
Windtalkers is masterfully filmed, but isn't for the faint of heart. It's utterly raw, and for moviegoers that will make it a real meal to feast on. (4.5 of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.