There is exactly one shot in Windtalkers that’s vintage John Woo: a digital butterfly flutters above a muggy stream in the Solomon Islands before the water turns bloody from the corpse of a floating soldier. If Woo feared that his signature, lyrical language of violence would compromise the authenticity of the WWII battleground, the end result here is something not unlike Randall Wallace’s equally quick-to-tire We Were Soldiers. Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down set the unfortunate standard by which Hollywood shoots and maims soldiers for public consumption. What with on-screen war now resembling a game of auteur one-upmanship, Windtalkers seems to confirm that the actual game may be less morally cumbersome than our reasons for watching. Though Woo’s pyrotechnics are undistinguishable Wallace’s, there’s no mistaking the humanity at work here. It’s difficult to accuse Windtalkers of being plagued with the kind of white man’s burden that typically trivializes multicultural warfare on film (see the smoking cigars, propelling ceiling fans and other signifiers of evil in Black Hawk Down, the generous give-the-enemy-a-girlfriend-too portions of We Were Soldiers and the emasculating Japanese culture shots of Pearl Harbor). Nonetheless, Woo’s humanity is unmistakably ham-fisted. With Steel Helmet and Big Red One, Sam Fuller tore away at the very archetypes films like Saving Private Ryan espouse. You can set your watch to Woo’s tedious battle-funeral-battle-funeral procedural and Frances O’Connor’s ridiculous “Dear Joe” narration and, while he successfully dodges many readymade archetypes, the director stages harmony as an awkward blind date between the races. Navajo code breakers must be protected from the Japanese enemy at all costs. Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage, perpetually passing a kidney stone) and Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach) meet cute, exchange post-vomit Lifesavers and negotiate racism in the ranks just in time for the we-are-the-world jam session that brings a harmonica and Navajo flute together at last.
- John Woo
- Joe Batteer, John Rice
- Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Peter Stormare, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt, Frances O'Connor, Christian Slater
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