Friday, June 14, 2002

Windtalkers (IMDB) (Netflix)
Director John Woo (Mission Impossible II, Face/Off) reaches beyond his center, which is the slick, modern-day action pic, and make a World War II movie about the Navajo codetalkers. The U.S. developed a code based in the Navajo language, which at the time had never been translated into German or Japanese, and used Navajo soldiers as human encryption/decryption machines, which resulted in an incredibly efficient and unbreakable communications system. Taking the story beyond docudrama is the screenwriters' assumption that the military valued the code so much that they assigned minders to protect it, meaning first to protect the codetalkers, but more importantly, to kill them if they were in danger of being captured by the Japanese. Nicholas Cage is the self-loathing Marine assigned to one of the Navajo and, given that a bunch of his buddies just died because he followed orders, he's not at all happy about this unsettling assignment.

As you might imagine, the battle scenes are pretty intense, although not as impressive as you'd expect from Woo (the grenade and mortar explosions are juiced past credibility, and he seems otherwise constrained by the restrictions of a period piece), it gets hokey and there's a redneck racist storyline that doesn't work very well, but Cage does a great job of riding the curmudgeon/hero ridge and his performance is one of the few things that makes this effort worth a visit.