Movie Review: Windtalkers

Posted: July 29, 2012 in Movie Review, Reviews
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Movie Review: Windtalkers

Windtalkers (2002/ MGM/ Dir. John Woo)

What happened to John Woo when he came to America? He had made some of the best action movies of the 80s and early 90s. Then he came to the US and had a string of near disasters and critical failures. That’s not to say his movies did badly. Mission: Impossible II actually did pretty well in theaters, despite what some smart ass critics thought of it. Face/Off was a big hit in the theaters and on video, as was Broken Arrow. None of them are really good movies though, and most have been rejected by Woo fans. Then this movie came along, which sank like a stone at the box office and heralded the beginning of the end for Woo’s American experiment. Allow me to state now, this is not a good movie. It will not be getting a huge score on the Graffiti Bridge Scale. HOWEVER! It won’t get a negative score, and that’s part of what I want to talk about here.

Yeah, I was part of the whole Ghost Rider thing.

A little while ago, on another blog, I wrote about what I call the “Why Would You Do That?” Moment. That’s one of those logical inconstancies that doesn’t make any sense, or muddies the waters. When a characters motivations suddenly become unclear, or ring false, or the actions don’t fit, those things always pull me out of a movie. I can take ambiguous morals, but the actions need to be consistent with the character and the type of person this actor is trying to portray. That’s one of the reasons this movie will get at least a nominal positive score. It doesn’t have any “Why did he do that?” moments. It does actually work as a story, the motivations are clear, the shots are in focus, the sound is good, there aren’t actually any scenes that were accidently threaded backwards and upside down in the projector. We have to give it whatever positive points it deserves, because we’re going to mention so many negatives.

Here’s the guy who should have been the star. He’s got movie star written all over him.

If this movie has a one word negative review, that word is Generic. You know, right from the start, when it dawns on you that that James Horner has turned in the most generic score of his entire career. There is an incredibly interesting story to be told about Navajo Code Talkers, but sadly, John Woo isn’t interested in that. John Woo is interested in telling the most generic World War Two story in the history of ever. Everything about the movie screams that this is a generic war movie, with nothing but the underused Code Talker element to differentiate it from all other war movies. That’s the biggest problem, this movie feels like it’s cobbeled together from other war movies. You’ve got bits of Platoon, a couple scenes from Saving Private Ryan, chunks of dialogue from Never So Few, a character from Full Metal Jacket, an idea left over from The Longest Day, and so on. The fact that the movie is one of the few I know of to take place in the Pacific War doesn’t even do much to save it because it has very little new to say about that situation either. The few things it does say about the Japanese, are the same things that always get said. That’s sad, because the Pacific War barely gets a look in, at least as far as American film is concerned. It’s the one place where you could have some new insights that people haven’t seen a hundred times before.

Wouldn’t be a War Movie without a briefing scene, would it?

Sadly, this opportunity is completely and utterly wasted in favor of telling a tale of a wounded Marine that goes back into the field to deal with his PTSD by shooting everyone he comes across. I guess, in the grand scheme of things, it’s more realistic than putting on a rubber bat costume, but it’s less fun. That’s a major problem here, we’re not having much fun. Not that big time “FUN” is the only criterion for enjoying a movie, but at some point you need to enjoy the film. As realistic as this movie is, a bat costume might have actually helped. Considering that the action is terrible, just awful, anything might have helped.

Hey, we got a Mexican Stand-Off. This is almost like a John Woo movie.

The action is terrible by the way. It’s like Woo forgot how to shoot and edit action, opting instead to try and ape the handheld style favored by Private Ryan, much to the movie’s detriment. The action scenes are long and drawn out as a result, the camera swings from one spot of interest to another without any cuts to break up the tedium. It doesn’t help that when shot like that, it becomes apparent that the fight choreography was done on the fly. Given that during the gun fights, every bullet the Americans fire seems to hit a Japanese soldier, it removes any tension that might build up. It’s not until the final action scene that Woo starts shooting and editing the thing like he’s John Woo or something. Until that final scene, the action is just some of the worst you’ve seen in years. It’s stagey, slow, and painful in a bad way.

Aaand, in a long tradition of John Woo heroes shooting with their yes shut…

The actors are pretty good, but they’re kind of given nothing to do. The script doesn’t offer much, but everyone works every scene they have. Nic Cage has two styles of acting, batshit and really trying. This is one the few movies where he gets to do both kinds and mix them together. He sort of makes both sides work pretty well, but the movie is kind of lousy so it’s hard to enjoy. If the movie weren’t the most generic war movie ever, it might be good to watch. This might, in some alternate world, be a good movie. Sadly, this is a movie where a marine throws a chocolate bar to entice a little girl like she was a dog chasing after a milkbone.

Yeah, he really did.

The thing is… so here’s the thing. Windtalkers has some good things going for it, and some bad things. It’s not a good movie. You have to be at least 35 degrees for me to actually call a movie good and even then it would only be “ehh, sorta good” at 35. Windtalkers isn’t exactly a bad movie either though. The story is consistent, the logic works, it’s just badly told. The action is bad, until the last bit, but the camera work is okay. Technically speaking, the movie is fine. The actors are decent, but have nothing to work with… ain’t no other way to say it. This is the Graffiti Bridge of war movies. I never thought I’d see the day but here it is…

Official Score:
0 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

If I ever need to recalibrate, I know a second source I can go to now.

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