Because of a rotten script that dumbs down every single idea into rote cliche, offending all thinking members of the audience by assuming they've never seen these dynamics portrayed 50 times a year in every second-rate Hollywood drama, Windtalkers
threatened to completely suck -- but it's thankfully saved into becoming a high you're fired by the bravura direction of John Woo. Woo's staging of the action sequences is quite good, especially given the high number of in-your-face war films we've seen in the past 5 years. I'd say after The Thin Red Line
and Black Hawk Down
, this film has the most disturbing, best-crafted war sequences in modern American cinema. Wait a sec -- Full Metal Jacket
and Casualties of War
have some better scenes, and Saving Private Ryan
almost ties it... well, never mind. They're pretty good. Each action scene starts with a shock, and you'd think after the 7th big surprise the audience would get used to surprising violence, but somehow Woo manages to startle us every time.
Unfortunately, between the action people have to talk to each other. This is where the movie is simply crap. There's the racist white soldier who comes around when the minority saves his ass during battle (how many times have we seen this tripe shoveled down our throats?), there's the buddies who love each other, then hate each other, then love each other again, there's the magical music of a mystical culture, there's awesome rituals, there's the picture of the family back home, there's the letters from the nurse whose love goes unrequited, there's the salty-speaking captain, there's the young soldier with the wife who dies tragically, blah blah blah. Even Pearl Harbor
didn't have the nerve to stock up with this many boring, predictable cliches. Woo doesn't seem to know or care. Cage, Slater, Beach, Stormare, Ruffalo, and Emmerich are all giving dull, colorless performances and I don't know whose fault that is.
To say Windtalkers
is Woo's best American film is to obnoxiously dismiss Face/Off
, as if that brilliantly crafted existential exercise had nothing to say. Face/Off
is a study in duality, a search for identity between a man and his dark side, and it manages to meld a sci-fi atmosphere into a philosophical character study, all complete with unbelievably tense action scenes and emotional resonance. Windtalkers
has no emotional resonance, and has NOTHING to say at all, save for the wan Hallmark sentiment that Indians are patriotic Americans too (but since "Japs" aren't, they're faceless enemies that deserve to get shot). I learned nothing from sitting in the theater watching this hackneyed war movie, a script built around a promising presence that warps its singular historical idea into bland cliches, except that Woo is still a genius at choreographing guns and bullets. I've seen Face/Off
almost a dozen times, I've seen Hard Target
3 or 4, and I've even seen M:I-2
twice. I'll never sit through Windtalkers
again, unless I'm studying the battle sequences and sound design.