During the Pacific battles of World War II, the United States constantly faced strategic setbacks from determined Japanese forces that had gained vital knowledge of American operations by breaking the coded battlefield transmissions. In an effort to resolve this costly problem and turn the tide of the war, the Marine Corps developed a code based on the language of the Navajo Indians.

With no basis for study of the language, the Japanese were unable to break the code, and the high command gave high priority status to the capture of a Navajo code-talker so they could learn the secrets of the code. With the tide of the warn turning in favor of the American forces, top priority was given to the protection of the code at all costs, and code-talkers often had a bodyguard who was given strict orders to protect the code even if it meant killing a code-talker to keep him from being captured by Japanese forces.

Such is the inspiration for the new film “Wind Talkers” taken from the name that the code-talkers gave themselves. The film stars Nicolas Cage as Sgt Joe Enders, a man who has been wounded in battle after losing the men under his command, and despite an inner ear injury that makes balancing as well as hearing difficult for him, he manages to fool the medical examiners and be re-instated to active duty. Enders is paired with a young Navajo code-talker named Ben Yahzee and given the task of protecting the code at all costs, including the lives of both men. Before long the two are thrown into battle in the Pacific theater where Yahzee is brought face to face with the horrors of war and Enders must battle the demons from his last command that left him the only survivor and severely wounded.

The film has a promising setup, but very quickly falls into a routine of stale and highly predictable war movie clichés and situations. There are scenes of soldiers talking about what they will do when they get back, there is the obligatory passing of photos, and the tried and true scenes where a soldier asks a buddy to send his wedding ring to his wife should something happen to him. Of course we know from past films that such scenes are usually the kiss of death for the characters and this film is no exception. The issue of racism amongst the soldiers is glossed over aside from one bigoted soldier who learns to respect the Navajo amongst them. Perhaps my biggest problem with the film was with Cage himself, as he plays Enders as a moping individual who only perks up when he is dispatching enemy soldiers in a highly Ramboesque manner and we know little of his motivations. Oddly still a young nurse is practically throwing herself at him and writing kind letter after letter to him, yet he cant be bothered to collect his mail or read the letters most of the time. Even if he was not interested in her, mail call is always a high point of a soldier’s day, as it is an escape from the war and a return to the homes they long to return to.
Adam Beach does a great job with his portrayal of Yahzee as the audience can see this is a man who is following his heart in defending his country, and who is forced to endure the horrors of war in order to survive. Beach is very likeable in the role; there is just not enough meat in the part for him to truly soar. There were times where I thought I was watching a computer game as Enders single handled mows down scores of the enemy while those around him are bombarded by heavy fire. Director John Woo does his best to keep the action moving but it is stale and predictable and comes of in a very ho-hum manner much of the time.
Christian Slater is good in a supportive role as assigned the task of watching a fellow code-talker, but his moments are too few as he and Beach were easily the best part of the movie. What could have been an informative an entertaining film quickly descends into a run of the mill film offer very little in the way of surprises or originality. You may enjoy this film as a diversion but my suggestion would be to wait for the video.

2 stars out of 5