Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Windtalkers

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive graphic war violence, and for language

Reviewed by: Deanna Marquart
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Action / Drama
Length:
2 hr. 14 min.
Year of Release:
2002
Scene from “Windtalkers” Nicolas Cage in Windtalkers

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Christian Slater, Noah Emmerich, Emily Mortimer | Directed by: John Woo | Produced by: John Woo, Terence Chang, Tracie Graham, Alison Rosenzweig | Written by: Joe Batteer, John Rice | Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

“In a war, there are secrets that need to be kept—and heroes that need to keep them.”

During the summer of 1991, I went on a college cross cultural trip to the Navajo Nation. From the experience, my eyes were opened to the real culture of the Native Americans and how the “Cowboys and Indians” understanding I had grown up with about them was a cruel propaganda lie. Also during this trip, I heard for the first time about the Navajo Code Talkers, a group of Navajo men assigned by the U.S. military during WWII to send radio communications using words from their own language as code. I thought then that someone ought to make a movie about them. My desire has finally been granted.

“Windtalkers” brings to life a story of one of these Navajo Code Talkers, Ben Yahzee (Beach), through the journey of Marine Sergeant Joe Enders (Cage). The sole survivor of a battle that had been lost because the Japanese had broken the last code, Enders is assigned as the bodyguard of Yahzee. This assignment, however, comes with a secret high price. The code must be protected above the code talker. Still suffering from the responsibility he shouldered in the loss of his last company, he must now deal with the possibility of having to kill the man he is to closely guard should capture become imminent, and only he and a fellow soldier (Slater) with the same charge over Yahzee’s friend (Willie) know about it.

In our “post-9/11 world,” war movies have taken on a whole new meaning for our society. We’re looking for heroes, we’re looking for honor and dignity and valor, we’re looking for sacrifice, we’re looking for victory to rise above through ashes, and we’re looking to feel the lives of those involved. This movie satisfies these longings.

Noah Emmerich and Mark Ruffalo in “Windtalkers”On the negative side, the movie contains a lot of violence and a lot of foul language and use of the Lord’s name in vain (Kids-in-Mind reports “15 F-words, 29 scatological terms, 15 anatomical terms… 9 religious profanities, 7 religious exclamations”). But considering this is a war movie spotlighting Marines that is rated “R”, these should come as no surprise. Some may find the extent to which the battle scenes are played out unnecessary while others may see that as the reality of a war situation. The only complaint that came out of my ex-military family members was how the hand grenades always exploded in fire (in reality, they only expel smoke and shrapnel).

In its favor, the movie also contains many positive elements. On the moral side, there is no sex or nudity (although the card deck used in one scene does come too close). On the valor side, the movie portrays many examples of heroism, sacrifice, duty, loyalty, compassion and forgiveness. Enders, as well as some of the others, come out by the end as shining stars, people who make you feel proud (proud in the good sense of the word). Additionally, the movie exposes the ignorant, racist attitude Americans have/had developed towards the “Injuns” for what it is, and throughout the movie worked towards overcoming it. (“I’m not an ‘Injun,’ I’m a Navajo,” Yahzee states in rebuke at one point in the film.) The use of traditional native rituals portrayed in the film may be bothersome to some; however, these rituals come across as an expression of culture and of faith rather than as a worship of false deities. Moreover, Enders and Yahzee share together their experiences of having grown up in the Catholic Church.

Roger Willie in “Windtalkers”Overall, I would recommend this film. The exception would be to those who are sensitive to extensive violence and language. This is a solidly “R” rated film, after all. Aside from that, the cinematography is remarkable and the acting is very well done. Dramatically, the heart-strings are pulled. One can really “feel” the characters. Good nature and upstanding character are not only displayed but also praised and honored. These qualities help to make “Windtalkers” worthwhile for many.

Viewer Comments

Another review, not quite as positive as the one above

Scene from WindtalkersAn action-packed war movie featuring the unsung Navajo heroes, the “codetalkers,” sounded like a great premise. But unfortunately, this movie fell short of its potential. The story focuses on two particular Navajo codetalkers. The unit to which these men are assigned is given the task of spearheading the American assault of the Japanese island of Saipan. Aside from a very brief training sequence and a couple radio calls for combat support, very little is explained or highlighted about the actual work of the codetalkers. Instead, the film seems to emphasize the dilemma faced by the men assigned to protect the unique Navajo code. Their orders were to protect the code from the enemy at all costs—including, if necessary, killing the Navajo soldiers rather than letting them fall into enemy hands.

There are a few brief moments of humor and a couple attempts at developing an emotional subplot, but most of the characters in the film are very one-dimensional and lack any compelling interest. The vast majority of the film is taken up with almost non-stop ground combat sequences. Machine guns, sniper rifles, grenades, mortar rounds, naval guns, combat knives, and even samurai swords are used to wound, maim, dismember, and kill. The violence is often quite graphic and leaves little to the imagination. Obviously, one expects this type of action in a war movie, but the balance of plot and action seems to be seriously out of whack in this film.

The film also contains numerous occasions of profanity and some racist comments. There is a very brief discussion of religion (two of the characters have a short talk about their Roman Catholic background), but the subject is not given any real attention. Other than that, the worldview of the characters is mostly one without hope and full of despair.

The film is not without any merits, however. Director John Woo is well-known for his special brand of action, and some of the sequences are truly exciting and well done. At times the film succeeds in driving home the horrors of war and the intense emotional struggles that soldiers face under combat situations. And, although the plot was weak, there were points at which the close friendships that develop among soldiers were effectively highlighted. The quality of the sound effects was also stunning and worked quite well to pull the viewer into the moment.

In short, for those who enjoy war movies and who can endure the violence, weak plot, shallow characters, and the repetition, there may be something here to entertain or educate.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3½]
—David Peterson, age 36


Other comments…
Negative—I went to see “Windtalkers” last night with a group of college friends. After the first action sequence, I remember thinking that I should walk out but I stayed and I was sorry I did. This movie was very violent and focused more on violence then on the plot. Soldier’s heads get cut off, limbs get blown off, people are seen burning to death and there are many more bloody deaths. Most of my friends (guys as well) were wincing and we all agreed that we should have left. Next time I will go with my gut feeling at the beginning. I would not suggest this movie. If you are looking for an action flick—try The Bourne Identity, the Sum of all Fears, or K19.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3]
—Jessica, age 20
Positive—I agree that the movie was unpleasant to watch, but this is real life, this is what war is really all about, and it was a real eye-opener for me. War has always been a very abstract concept for me, but after seeing this movie, and “Saving Private Ryan,” I feel I have something visual to relate to. In response to Jacques Lemieux’ review above, I agree that Indians should not be thought of as second-class citizens. However, at the time, this is how many people thought of them, and the movie needed to accurately portray the attitudes of that time—even if they are offensive. Even though I’m a Christian, I don’t believe in “sugar-coating” the truth, no matter now offensive. As far the offensive language, well, this is a war movie, and that’s the way many people behave in a situation when they’re facing having part of their body blown off at any moment. Again, this is simply a portrayal of the way it really was, and I see no reason to sugar-coat it.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Susan Stratton, age 34
Negative—This movie was blood and guts the whole way through and the language was terrible. The premise of the movie was good… to bring honor to the Navajo codetalkers that helped us during WWII, but not enough of the movie dealt with that. I’m sure that men who enjoy war action films would enjoy it… my suggestion, however, is that they take a male buddy with them and leave the wives at home.
My Ratings: [Average / 3]
—E. Reid, age 43
Positive—…I would only like to say that I feel very unmoved by those persons trying to grasp the idea of the film. I personally feel that the tragic history of war only leaves us totally distanced from those that served, including lessons not learned by a generation so distanced. I am a son of a veteran, and I can only bear to try to understand that our struggling nation had to step in and sacrifice our brothers in arms. We must accept what was given to us in stories and what may or may not be a legacy—for what holds true today is a nation at war. Maybe, I am troubled by my father’s and uncle’s determination to be a proud and brave generation, but I too feel the sorrow and pain. Let us all be aware that our past generation was reluctant, yet they were ready to sacrifice and give for our future. My Native American family and community have taken part in active duty to prove that these past wars were of their duty. If any critic must say that a film was based on false characters, sloppy research, poor characterization, then that critic must absolutely know what it is to walk in one’s moccasins for a day—and much more to march in one of our country’s hero’s boots for a tour of duty! Let’s not try to make our countries legacy of war a pleasant experience for our younger generation, but realistic for the reality of whether men live or die for a greater good. …
My Ratings: Average / 3
—Roger Martinez, age 39
Negative—I have to say I wasn’t expecting much seeing john woo direct a war epic, since his main path is action/special effects (“Face off”). But I was disappointed when the movie highlighted mainly on the marines job to kill the navaho if the code was jeopardized. And how their action seemed forced with slow motion action sequence, with bullets flying everywhere and cage never getting hit, it just didn’t seem like it realistically portrayed a war time event. And I wished the movie had built more into the characters personalities, kind of like saving private ryan.
My Ratings: [Average / 2]
—Matthew, age 18
Positive—I just wanted to respond to the comment by Whitney saying that it was untrue that the Marines were ordered to kill the codetalkers if there was a chance that they could fall into enemy hands. We had a Navaho Indian, who was a codetalker, speak at our church recently and he informed us that his so-called Marine bodyguard was ordered to kill him if there was a chance that he was about to fall into Japanese hands. That was something he knew and confirmed to us. He also told us that the film was very close to being true.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
—Dory, age 47
For Christians, you get the combination punch of violence and language. The violence is gratuitous with lots of explosions, bullets, knifings and even a decapitation. You can argue that it is about war so this is appropriate but use your discernment before going. Further, there are tons of “f” words and other foul language. Interestingly, the two main characters (Joe Enders and Ben Yahzee) played by Nicolas Cage and Adam Beach were raised Catholic. Cage says he isn’t one anymore but does draw a picture of a church. The codetalker explains an extreme punishment by the church for the minor offense for speaking the Navajo language during mass. Could this be proof that Catholic bashing is the “in thing” for Hollywood?… Realism must have been the goal as the war scenes are quite believable with blood and bullet wounds. Anyone with a queasy stomach should probably not go. Please Mr. John Woo, stick to the movie’s name and give us some story of the windtalkers. They are only used a handful of times but at least focus on them more. On the contrary, the story is more centered around the Enders character, his war ghost, injury and more. I’m sure it will be heralded as terrific for its realism but it can be over the top. Besides what was mentioned, this movie portrays cheating as acceptable if it serves a greater purpose. Soldier Enders has a nurse assist him with his hearing test so he can return to combat (his ear was damaged during the first combat scene).
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 2]
—Tim Emmerich
Negative—I was disappointed with this movie. Way too long and way too much gratuitous killing for my taste… Even for a war movie. The only good thing I can derive from it, is that it has started me thinking about the value of human life, and how God must see war as, His creation killing each other, blinded by sin.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 2½]
—R. Patrick, age 21
Negative—Bad movie! My wife and I were shocked at the amount of blood and guts shown all the way through this film. The Name of our Lord is taken in vain quite a few times. We were expecting something much better. We also didn’t like to see the “Indians” portrayed as second class citizens. Jesus loves EVERYONE the same, and He died for “whosoever” (John 3:16). This movie surely doesn’t bring that message. Sad!
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 1]
—Jacques “Jerry” Lemieux, age 49
Movie Critics
…a compelling tale to tell… but buried it beneath a stodgy plot line and a never-ending series of battle sequences. The result is an old-fashioned war movie that mires in mediocrity…
—Bill Muller, Arizona Republic
…A wonderful and true story, WINDTALKERS is blown away by graphic war violence, too many curses, and lame dialogue…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…tremendous amount of war-related action where many people are killed by gunfire, various explosions, being stabbed, decapitated, etc…
—ScreenIt!
Comments from young people
Negative—Windtalkers is a disgrace to American Film. An entirely unconvincing Nicolas Cage headlined this gore orgy. Cage’s performance as Joe Enders was as inspired as a can of Campbells soup, not the chunky kind either. The supporting cast followed suit. This movie was over before it started, in my mind. Writers Rice and Batteer chose to focus not on the Navajo code-talkers, but their guards. Though the guards were interesting, they don’t belong in the spotlight. This movie is proof that Hollywood is no longer interested stories, only dollars. Windtalkers should have been about Adam Beach and Roger Willie as Yahzee and Whitehorse, not Cage and his sidearm. Anyone who says this movie promoted cross-cultural understanding and discouraged bigotry is completely wrong. What Windtalkers says, and what it does are two entirely different things. The production team obviously didn’t believe in its brief look at us! We’re from different cultures but we’re best buddies segments. Inherent racism dominates Windtalkers. Of all the movies out there, this one cried the loudest for a Native American star. In the end this movie proves that Hollywood is unwilling to let Native Americans tell their own stories. Windtalkers was as predictable as a metronome, and every bit as engaging. When the viewer is introduced to a person equipped with a flamethrower it is obvious the tank of gas will explode into flames. I liked it the first time I saw it, when it was called Saving Private Ryan.

And last, but certainly least, were the dreadfully repetitive battle sequences. Following the final battle sequence, Chick, played by Noah Emmerich, approaches Enders and Yahzee proclaiming I think that’s the last of em’ after killing upwards of two million Japanese soldiers in downwards of two hours. I was expecting him to follow up with something like I guess we’ll have to send back to Japan for some more. This movie trivializes death by killing so many people in a method completely devoid of any emotion. By the end of the movie I was just hoping Enders would die, or morph into Thomas Builds-the-Fire from Smoke Signals (The movie Adam Beach should be remembered for). At the end of the movie I didn’t know whether I wanted to laugh at Cage’s laughable performance, or cry because Windtalkers wasted an opportunity to tell the rare story worth telling.
My Ratings: [Average / 1]
—Matt Castner, age 17
Positive—This movie was amazing—I was crying and laughing. It’s probably the best war film I have ever seen. The acting was wonderful, violence was played fairly tastefully and was realistic to the core, and the language was not quite as bad as most war films (7 f-words, 11 s-words, 3 g-d’s, 5-d-words and two c’s). The soundtrack was quite well done and the choice of actors was wonderful! Christian Slater is back again! :)Go see it if you’re a extremely mature 10-year-old and above.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Anna, age 10
Neutral—The one thing that really disturbs me about Windtalkers is the idea that the marines were supposed to kill the Navajo if there was a chance that they might fall into enemy hands. This is simply not true. The producer and director researched the Navajo codetalkers and found no evidence that codetalkers were ever ordered to be killed. But, sensing a storyline, they went ahead and made a completely false movie. There are credible facts and evidence which makes the whole premise of this movie false. I wish that Hollywood had stuck to the facts instead of trying to send their own message.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3½]
—Whitney, age 16