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Review: Windtalkers (2002)

Directed by: John Woo | 153 minutes | action, drama, war | Actors: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Stormare, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt, Martin Henderson, Roger Willie, Frances OConnor, Christian Slater, Jason Isaacs, Billy Morts, Cameron Thor, Kevin Cooney, Holmes Osborne, Keith Campbell , Clayton J. Barber

Joe Enders’ military career went well until he was forced to defend a position in a swampy area in the Solomon Islands in 1943 at all costs. All higher rank soldiers are killed, so he is put in charge. The ammunition is running out and the men beg him to withdraw from this hopeless situation. However, he stubbornly sticks to the assignment. Then everyone dies and he is the only one, albeit badly injured, to survive.

In a hospital in Hawaii he tries to recover physically and that is reasonably successful due to his great perseverance. However, he is mentally broken. Even the support and attention of the nurse Rita (Frances O’Connor) does not free him from the guilt of the men who died under his command. He does accept her help to make him fit for duty again by means of a trick. He doesn’t like the assignment to act as a babysitter for the Navajo Indian Ben Yahzee.

Yahzee and Whitehorse are part of a group of Navajo Indians who are being trained as code speakers. As members of the reconnaissance troops, they transmit the enemy’s positions so that they can be attacked from aircraft carriers or by air strike. The code language is based on their native language, but not the same. A word like “tank” has been replaced by a new term. So the Japanese are of no use to any Navajo Indian and they are committed to getting a code speaker alive, but of course the Americans will do everything they can to ensure that this does not happen. An exciting fact, but unfortunately the importance of the input of the code speakers is not clearly explained anywhere. They’re not doing anything in the movie that someone who speaks plain English couldn’t handle.

“Windtalkers” contains the fixed ingredients of a typical movie. There is a stark contrast between the experienced, cynical Enders and the newcomer Yahzee who, full of patriotism, has volunteered. There are racial tensions that are reflected in Whitehorse’s many jokes about bleaching faces and Private Chick’s (Noah Emmerich) derogatory comments about red skins. Women and home are missed and they don’t remember why they wanted to be employed so badly. Only the Indian rituals deviate from that pattern, but are very pure and special, so that that part lingers in exoticism. Fortunately the actors play solid and enthusiastic, so that balancing on of melodrama stays on the right side of the line. And maybe there is just one explosion too many, but the soldiers heroism is certainly likeable.

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