Before U.S. forces are set to invade the Japanese island of Saipan in June of 1944 Marines Joe Enders (played by Nicolas Cage) and Ox Anderson (played by Christian Slater) are given a special assignment: They must protect two Navajo code talkers Ben Yahzee (played by Adam Beach) and Charlie Whitehorse (played by Roger Willie). The men's orders are to protect the code "at all costs " and although it is never worded as such it is assumed they are to kill the code talkers if they fall into enemy hands. Enders somehow rationalizes that killing Yahzee will be easier if the two remain distant and he treats Yahzee like dirt for the first half of the film. Yahzee tries to appease Enders by telling jokes and being sweet until he finds out what Enders' true mission really is. Yahzee then turns into a Rambo-type soldier on a one-man kamikaze mission killing everything in his path. Ultimately the two men bond and Enders is faced with the predictable dilemma of deciding Yahzee's fate. Windtalkers is inspired by true events but unfortunately the film doesn't focus enough on the Navajo experience or the code but instead places too much emphasis on Enders' inner turmoil.
One thing war films are usually good at is establishing the bonds among soldiers in times of conflict but the relationships developed in Windtalkers are practically nonexistent. As Enders Cage is a bitter man dealing with some heavy issues but we never get a chance to care about his character's plight; he's too busy being detestable. It would have been interesting to get a better glimpse into Beach's character Yahzee but instead of delving into how his racist comrades' actions affect him for example Beach has to sling back smart one-liners like "How did you know I was a chief? You must have seen me showering with my war bonnet." Slater's character is just as one-dimensional as all the other characters but he at least shows a glimmer of human emotion in Anderson that makes him slightly more likeable. Frances O'Connor has a small and useless role as a nurse stationed at a hospital in Hawaii. Her character Rita is so irrelevant to the film's plot that she actually disappears after a few scenes only to resurface intermittently as a voiceover for letters she writes to Enders.
The premise for Windtalkers is a fascinating one that is trivialized rather than explored. Director John Woo pulls out every Navajo cliché including ritualistic flute-playing and mystical burials. The most interesting aspects of the film are the anatomy of the code and watching it go into effect from its boot-camp development stage to the language being used over the battlefield radios to encode messages. But rather than focus on that scribes John Rice and Joe Batteer hone in on Enders and Anderson and they waste time developing useless storylines like the friendship Enders strikes up with nurse Rita at a Pearl Harbor hospital. The battle scenes come across as bland compared to last year's Black Hawk Down but the film's most disappointing aspect is the fact that Yahzee's and Whitehorse's characters are so underdeveloped. (Wait I seem to remember Yahzee having a son named George Washington. Give me a break!) The film's soundtrack composed by James Horner also seems oddly out of place and too upbeat for the morose subject matter.