John Woo is a diehard advocate of the lone-gunman theory. His Hong Kong actioners with Chow Yun-fat exploded as much with the angst and aplomb of his isolated anti-hero as with the operatic action sequences. Hollywood’s big budgets, big stars, and emphasis on spectacle have diluted the director’s purity, especially in this war movie. The generic special effects, epic sweep, marching armies, military strategy, and musty conventions scatter Woo’s integrity to the winds.
Based on actual and deservedly publicized historical facts, Windtalkers is the tale of Navajo Marines in the Pacific during World War II enlisted to devise an unbreakable code based on their language. Sent into the field, these "windtalkers" are paired with veteran soldiers ostensibly entrusted with their protection but secretly ordered to kill their charges should they risk capture. The code is more important than the man who speaks it. Adam Beach as Navajo windtalker Ben Yahzee conveys an honest sweetness that’s hard to resist, and Nicolas Cage’s scarred Sergeant Joe Enders wallows in a believable nihilism, but these two never connect. Neither does the theme of individual loyalty versus social duty so important in Woo’s films resound, and his trademark balletic violence misfires. War is not hell in Windtalkers, it’s like a John Woo movie on a larger, more mechanical scale, tawdry background to the cornball and cliché’d excesses that in the best of this director’s work take on the aura of the iconic. Here, it’s all windy talk.