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Windtalkers
Directed by John Woo

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Christian Slater, Peter Stormare
Running Time: 2:15
Country: USA
Year: 2002
Web: Official Site
Based on: Novel
Making Of: Book
In his latest film, the most ambitious to date, John Woo substitutes great heroic battles for the stylized urban shoot-outs that made his reputation. If Windtalkers is a conventional and violent war film, it is however equipped with a true emotional dimension that seems to have escaped the Hong-Kong director since The Killer.

Nicolas Cage plays Joe Enders, a valiant Marine traumatized by the loss of his men, who is charged with protecting Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), a Navajo code talker, and especially the code that very few know about. Joe's task will be even more difficult as the physical pressure of the engagements is added to the psychological pressure of having to eliminate his charge if he falls into enemy hands.

The title refers to the "code talkers", Navajos who were employed by the U.S. military to transmit messages coded in their own language during World War II. The most obvious reproach of Woo's film is not spending enough time on the "windtalkers", concentrating instead on Joe and the combat scenes. Though it's true that the conscription and training of the Navajos is covered at lightning speed, one must concede that this is the first time a film tackles the subject and pays homage to these patriots ignored for far too long.

The presence of Woo behind the camera undoubtedly calls for a belligerent film. Windtalkers is above all an action film and a success at this level. In addition to some gripping aerial shots, the director excels in showing close combat. The visual and choreographic virtuosity of his camera shows through in particular in the knife fight scene and in the last heroic scene between Slater's character and the "code talker" that he accompanies.

Ignorant critics who believe Saving Private Ryan was a pioneer of the war film genre will quickly complain about the presence of stereotypes and excesses of the film. But this genre being precisely confined within its own limits, the only criticism to be made is that of sometimes overly borrowing from the psychological atmosphere that was so original in the Thin Red Line. At the same time, like in all of Woo's films, the bravado sometimes goes beyond the limits of realism, but that's precisely what gives it its charm.

The only true surprise is the emotional dimension brought to the characters. The Killer is a classic due to the emotional counterbalance that Woo knew to create to contrast with the action. An aspect cruelly lacking from the films that followed and resulted in a succession of soulless action films. The director, who made a specialty of virile friendships, succeeds for the first time at truly moving the audience because his characters are more human than they've ever been. Without much surprise, he fails in male-female relationships, since the female character and love story were unexpectedly thrown into the male battlefield without ever being convincing.

Windtalkers also tackles the racism within the military suffered by Native Americans. If the reversal of the racist "Redneck" is too much, this plot—similar to that of The Patriot—is justified here by its historical context instead of being a simple scripted demagogic process.

Adam Beach plays an engaging character with charm and dignity. Christian Slater makes his comeback in a large production, but it's Nicolas Cage who's especially astonishing. Since his transformation into an action film hero the actor has lent himself to a succession of grotesque performances, and here he proves that he has an astonishing reserve and carries the film as well as he carries Ben on his shoulders.

By taking a risk in a new genre with Windtalkers, Woo shows an imperfect but much more convincing work than the majority of his last films.

  Fred Thom

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