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Windtalkers: Director's Cut

MGM // R // April 25, 2006
List Price: $19.94 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted May 3, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

Windtalkers is one of those utterly predictable and ultimately shallow "war flicks" that tries to put an important face on all the carnage, yet 85% of the movie consists of blood for shock value and explosions for the "gee whiz" factor. Not since the 1985 Oscar-winner Missing in Action 2: The Beginning have I seen this many ridiculous "grenade gags". You know the drill: hero throws grenade, grenade explodes, several enemies go hurtling through the air like so many screaming baseballs. That the Chuck Norris "grenade gag" occurs about 7 times during Windtalkers is a good indication of how serious-minded the film truly is.

Nicolas Cage (opting to work in blank-eyed zombie mode this time out) plays Sgt. Joe Enders, a commander who recently lost his entire platoon to a wide array of colorful deaths. (It was all his fault, of course.) After stewing about with a bum ear at the local vet's hospital, Enders is given a new assignment; he's to be paired up with a Native American 'codetalker' who will be able to relay important orders, coordinates, and recipes without them pesky Japanese listening in. Enders is ordered to protect codetalker Yahzee at all costs ... unless of course they're both captured ... in which case Enders would be forced to protect the code (ie - kill Yahzee) in overtly dramatic fashion.

Nothing sums up a good war epic like a plot than can be described in one sentence, and Windtalkers nails that one plot device into the blood-soaked ground. It's obvious that by adding the whole 'noble savage' and 'cure racism through warfare' themes, the filmmakers were hoping to add a little meat to this essentially insubstantial affair, but the "code" stuff is given perhaps 20 minutes screen time, and the rest of what's on display isn't exactly anything to hoot and holler for.

When you say a film has "lots of action," that's almost always a compliment. But in the case of Windtalkers, the numerous battle sequences are choppy, uninvolving, and more than a little derivative. Aside from the aforementioned grenade gag, Windtalkers hosts a laundry list of war flick cliches that should have been retired along with Ronald Reagan. If I told you there was one racist soldier who refuses to accept the Navajo soldiers, would that stun you? Or would you make the next logical connection -- that the racist soldier would soon be on the receiving end of some good ol' Navajo heroics. This same exact plot hook is used in every war movie! Do they really think moviegoers sitting through Windtalkers haven't seen The Patriot or Glory

I digress. Lazy screenwriting is as predictable as tax season -- and about as enjoyable. To be completely honest, I find a screenplay littered with one yawning cliche after another an insult to my intelligence, so the 'other stuff' better be pretty damn good.

In this case, the 'other stuff' is nearly as bad. Though Windtalkers certainly has a copious amount of battleground explosions and flying bullets, very few of these sequences actually manage to pound one's pulse. There's the indefinable little internal oomph you get when you're watching a great action sequence, and I didn't get that sensation once during Windtalkers. The action scenes seem too polished, too rote, and way too overbaked. Much like in the vastly superior Black Hawk Down, the unending sea of enemies pour forth from the jungle like so many Romero zombies. Our soldiers plow right through them and more pop up.

The performances are uniformly acceptable, with only Cage's incessant glower a consistent bore. Adam Beach (Mystery Alaska) plays the dimensionless Yahzee with all the charm he can muster, but the character is written to be a Navajo Superman Saint, so he doesn't have too many shades to work with. Christian Slater (Heathers) adds some color as another 'code protector', while Jason Isaacs (The Patriot) shows up just just long enough to make you wish he had more scenes. Likable character actors Peter Stormare, Mark Ruffalo, and Noah Emmerich get to put on camoflague and play War with the big boys. Good for them.

I don't know why anyone thought John Woo was the right guy for a wartime action drama, but it's clear that Woo works best indoors ... and in Hong Kong. His American films (Face/Off, Broken Arrow, Mission: Impossible 2, Paycheck) fall somewhere between 'guilty pleasure' and 'barely watchable' -- despite what the Box-Office Gods may have to say. (OK, Face/Off is a lot of good, goofy fun; I'll give Woo that one.) The director's affinity for 'operatic carnage' is given free reign over these WWII battlefields, yet each successive skirmish is as tiresome and paint-by-numberesque as the one before.


Video: Anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1) -- and pretty damn excellent.

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English or 2.0 French, with optional subtitles in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.


Fans of the film are already well aware that this release marks Windtalkers' third different DVD edition. #1 was a basic bare-bones affair and #2 was a three-disc Deluxe Edition -- but, oddly enough, neither of those releases contained any deleted scenes. And now we know why.

The Windtalkers Director's Cut comes with an extra 20 minutes of editing room droppings that have been wedged back into the flick in an effort to earn just a few more bucks off this big-time money-loser. (Windtalkers cost about $115 million to make, but didn't crack $42 million in domestic box office.) In a 47-second introduction from John Woo, the director promises longer battle scenes and further interplay between Cage and Beach. In my opinion, these scenes don't make a mediocre film any better; just longer.

Ported over from previous releases are a trio of audio commentaries (#1 - Woo and producer Terence Chang / #2 Cage & Slater / #3 original "Windtalker" Roger Willie and advisor Albert Smith), a teaser trailer, a theatrical trailer, and some previews for Die Another Day, Dances With Wolves, and Hannibal.

Final Thoughts

A couple of cool jolts and a few tips of the hat to cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball save this one from being a total disaster. Windtalkers is strictly a 'going-through-the-motions' motion picture product, one that's entirely beholden to earlier (and infinitely better) war films.

This release is simply disc 1 from the previous 3-disc package, period.

If you happen to dig the film more than most people seem to, I'd recommend a Rent It approach for the extra footage; you certainly won't need it for anything else.

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