Plot: What’s it about?
Sergeant Joe Enders (Nicholas Cage) is a Marine decorated with all kinds of honors, medals, and awards, but his most important mission lies ahead. After some trickery on his medical exams, the usually by the book soldier is allowed to return to service, but his assignment is not a typical one, not by any means. He has been ordered to protect a codetalker, but unlike all the other codes used by the United States forces, this code has never been broken. As such, it is a vital and most important weapon in the battles, so Enders’ assignment is a serious one, though he is reluctant and displeased at the start. Enders is paired with a Navajo codetalker named Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), while a fellow Marine “Ox” Anderson (Christian Slater) has been told to protect the other codetalker, Charlie Whitehorse (Roger Willie). As the trek begins, Enders is doubtful of the true worth of these codetalkers, but as time passes, he sees their value and when he realizes this, the assignment goes beyond normal duty. Soon enough, Enders and Yahzee are more than fellow soldiers, but if the enemy should capture the codetalker, how far would Enders go to bring back the military’s best secret weapon, who also happens to be his friend?
A movie that cost over one hundred million dollars to make, Windtalkers needed to be a hit to turn profits, but instead, audiences turned cold. Even with Nicholas Cage as the headliner and action master John Woo in the director’s chair, Windtalkers failed to spark box office numbers, due in part to bad word of mouth. And while I am a fan of Woo’s career, I was let down with this picture, as he moved away from the story too much, in order to focus on large scale war sequences, which lessens the film’s impact. As well all know, Woo is known for his over the top action scenes and he delivers those here, but he has often been able to weave in a great story also, which doesn’t happen with Windtalkers. The true life material lends itself well to such a movie, but Woo’s focus on action instead of story pushes it to the back, so aside from some window dressing at times, the codetalker aspect is downplayed. Even so, I think fans of war movies and Woo’s films should enjoy the battle sequences, if nothing else. But with the film being a disappointment and MGM’s disc being bare bones, a rental should suffice in most cases.
The name player here in front of the camera is Nicholas Cage, who seems to be stuck in some less than rewarding roles. If the subject of the codetalkers was better explored here, Cage might have been able to do more, but with this being more action than drama, he can’t do much more than give a solid performance. I mean, his character isn’t looked at too much beneath the surface, save a few cliche turns, so Cage is unable to open up much here. A little more work on character development and story depth could have allowed a better effort, as we all know Cage can score when he has the right material. Even with limited material to work with, Cage does the best he can and that provides a decent turn, though an unmemorable one. Other films with Cage include Honeymoon in Vegas, Face/Off, Bringing Out the Dead, Leaving Las Vegas, Kiss of Death, and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The cast also includes Adam Beach (The Last Stop, Joe Dirt), Peter Stormare (The Million Dollar Hotel, The Big Lebowski), and Christian Slater (True Romance, Interview with the Vampire).
Video: How does it look?
Windtalkers is presented in a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, with a full frame edition included on the disc’s flip side. As MGM has been doing some excellent work of late, I knew this would be a terrific visual effort, but I had no idea it would look this superb. This is a reference level treatment in all aspects, starting off with a pristine source print that has no grain, marks, or other blemishes to discuss. The colors stream in vivid hues, with rich and full textures, while flesh tones are consistent throughout also. I was blown away by the black levels, which are razor sharp and highly refined, simply top notch work here. This is easily one of MGM’s best transfers to date and beyond that, one of the best I’ve seen period.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio here is solid, but given the”smashmouth” style used in the action driven scenes, I expected more power & dynamic presence. I do think the bass is deep & effective, but beyond the super loud stuff, the included Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack falters somewhat. The scenes lack depth, with just a lot of well placed loud impact noises, but without the more subtle and background effects, it all seems rather flat at times. So the mix is by no means thin, but it could have been much better, with more work on the smaller touches. The music and dialogue always sound excellent though, so no worries on those fronts. This disc also includes Spanish & French soundtracks, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
If you already own the 3 Disc set that came out a while ago, there’s no need to buy this. The original release (there are three DVD releases of this movie, by the way) was the movie only and a trailer. This version includes the director’s version of the movie along with the trio of audio commentary tracks included on the 3 Disc Set. If you’re not willing to shell out the money for the three disc set, this would be the version to get.