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Explosive Action Shredded by Shrapnel ClichÉs

By Amandeep Loomba

Staff writer

Written by John Rice and Joe Batteer

Directed by John Woo

Starring Nicholas Cage, Adam Beach, Christian Slater

Rated R

In Hollywood, it seems, bigger means better. More of “what the people want” inevitably becomes a banal “more of the same.” As the technology, budgets, and egos behind films grow larger and larger, it always feels like the viewer is being treated to less and less. This is why so many movies, rife with all the standard clichÉs, feel like attacks of clones. A healthy majority of the big-budget flicks coming out of Tinseltown nowadays seem like fancy computer-generated imagery accompanied by computer-generated dialogue.

However, leaping through the door to Hollywood in slow motion with a camera shooting in each hand is director John Woo, formerly of Hong Kong. “I try to make it real ... I never like cheating. I never like to use any CGI [computer generated imagery],” he said in a recent interview with The Tech. In his latest film, Windtalkers, an American budget provides us with a very large and very action-packed view of World War II. “In one shot, there were over 200 bombs on the field,” Woo said.

Two-hundred explosions in a single shot seems to be enough to qualify Windtalkers as a bonafide war movie. But unlike Woo’s dark and uncompromising Hong Kong war film Bullet in the Head, Windtalkers is for the most part devoid of any real originality, character or depth.

Windtalkers gives us the story of a U.S. Marine Sergeant (Nicolas Cage), shell-shocked and injured after losing all of his men to Japanese attackers in an ambush. He is assigned to protect a Navajo codetalker (ably played by the charming Adam Beach) with the stipulation that the code itself is more valuable than the codetalker. Thus, if the Japanese capture a codetalker, he is to be killed before he can reveal the secrets of the code.

The notion of codetalking itself comes from a truly intriguing page of U.S. history. There were in truth Navajos who, during World War II, transmitted battlefield messages by radio in their native language. Known only by a very minor population, and with no written counterpart, the language was virtually impossible for the Japanese to decipher.

Sadly, codetalking serves less as premise for the film and more as device. We never learn about the act in any detail. Instead, the movie is primarily about Nicolas Cage’s character, his past, his girlfriend and his magical ability to gun down hundreds of Japanese soldiers single-handedly. John Woo told The Tech, “my movies are not only about action, they’re always about human nature.” For many of his films, this holds true. The action sequences in The Killer so sublimely parallel the relationships between the characters that the two sources of thrust in the film become tantamount. Windtalkers, however, suffers greatly from a string of clichÉs that suck the humanity out of the film.

What remains is a troupe of stereotyped characters left sitting around a campfire delivering monologues about home. Between intrusive flashbacks, viewers are left to try and understand the characters and their motivations through the same lines of dialogue you hear in any war movie. Then comes the obligatory harmonica, played by Christian Slater.

“As an American citizen,” Woo said, “I feel I have a duty to tell this story.” Perhaps, but it is quite unfortunate that Windtalkers turned out to be such a typically American movie. Woo’s signature style and flair are certainly present in the film, but they seem constrained to tremendous over-the-top action sequences. The battles are visually striking and do have sheer visceral impact, but what do 200 bombs on the battlefield mean when they are matched by 200 lines of dialogue that bomb?

Woo delivers a movie that in the end will please those who are looking for violence and are not too concerned with characters. Somehow Windtalkers takes an idea for a great story, throws in some whiz-bang action, and then forgets to tell the story.