Saturday, December 27, 2008
An esteemed reviewer suggested that Windtalkers required the creation of a new genre...the wasted opportunity. There are no words I could find to sum up my feelings about this film that would better frame my opinion of this film than wasted opportunity. I found this film in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart...figuring a story about the true Code Talkers of World War II would be an excellent addition to my collection. I'm not a big fan of Nicholas Cage, but I figured a film about my beloved Marine Corps was a must have. At five bucks I thought it to be a steal.
Windtalkers touts itself as a film about Navajo Code Talkers. Their communications were unbreakable by the Japanese. This was an important strategic part of the US Campaigns in the Pacific...giving the United States a tactical advantage over the Japanese. Every Marine Recruit is drilled with Marine Corps History during their indoctrination at MCRD Parris Island or San Diego. The Pacific Campaign contains major elements of Marine Corps history...stories of Tarawa (the bloodiest battle) and Midway and the Island Hopping Campaign that was adopted from General Ellis' Orange Plan. It was formulated in 1926 by the eerily prophetic General Ellis and became the cornerstone of World War II operations in the Pacific. One key event in the Pacific was the United States breaking of the tough Japanese "purple" code (our name for the Japanese code). The United States broke the Purple Code immediately prior to the battle of Midway, which every Marine knows was the turning point of the war in the Pacific. With an edge over the Japanese, our secure coded communications were never breached by Japanese Intelligence.
It seems clear that something as simple as breaking the Japanese Purple Code could turn the war in the United States favor. The prospects for telling the story of the Native Americans who developed a code based on their native language would be an important historically significant tale. A story that could swell the chests of Native Americans from every tribe (Code Talkers included Navajo, Comanche, Choctaw, Cherokee, Meskwaki and even Basque). I would personally be offended by the drivel that substituted for an intellectual examination of the contribution made by these men. This film was more about Nicholas Cage and his inability to fire a machine gun with his mouth closed (he has the ugliest "war face" I have ever seen). The opportunities to highlight the contributions of the Navajo were reduced down to three inane communications, one that made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
In terms of background...allow me to explain a bit about the film. Nicholas Cage stars as Sgt Joe Enders, a Marine whose heroics (that is to say, he alone survived a brutal attack in the Solomon Islands) earning him the coveted Silver Star. Enders rehabs at the Naval Hospital in Kaneohe Bay. Now, Kaneohe Bay was a Naval Base during World War II and was actually the first base attacked by the Japanese. The base had seaplanes, which could be scrambled quickly if not taken out first. However, during my time at Kaneohe Bay the piddly Medical Center barely had a Sick Call...you definitely wouldn't want to be treated long term there. Tripler Army Hospital would probably have been a more likely destination. Enders can't wait to get back into action, faking his hearing test in order to be cleared for duty. Enders new assignment is to ensure the safety, and if necessary prevent the capture of a Code Talker, a Navajo named Pvt Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach).
Pvt Yahzee is joined by Pvt Charlie Whitehorse (Roger Willie) whose personal bodyguard is Sgt Pete Anderson (Christian Slater). The Navajo are not entirely welcome in the unit, with one particular soldier making it know that he doesn't like Indians...predictably, his life is saved by Pvt Whitehorse later in the film. The unit is given several missions which put them directly in harms way while engaging in small unit tactics. The superior firepower of the enemy never seems to be able to overcome the inferior numbers and complete lack of fire discipline and tactical movement by the group. The men fight bravely, rarely using the skills of the codetalkers. The movie ends after a major firefight, but well before the war has ended, following Sgt Anders rather than the Navajo men.
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