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Based on a fascinating piece of World War II history, John Woo's Windtalkers (2002) finds the director in familiar territory. After enduring a horrific battle that leaves him the only survivor, Marine Sgt. Joe Enders (Nicholas Cage) earns a promotion, as long as he takes a special assignment — the Marines are utilizing a military-communications code based on the Navaho language, and the Japanese have been unable to crack it, so Joe is tasked to protect Navaho code-talking recruit Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach). But there's a twist — Enders is to protect the code first and foremost, and if Yahzee winds up in jeopardy, Enders must kill him. As they (and their squad) make their way through the island of Saipan, Enders wrestles with his role as guardian and executioner, while Ben suffers the racism of another soldier (Noah Emmerich). After making his way through some troubled, but profitable, American productions (1993's Hard Target, 2000's MI:2), John Woo's reputation as a world-class action director was taken to task by Windtalkers, which met with fiscal failure and critical drubbing. But many critics knocked the film on some of its most superficial elements, criticizing the use of stereotypes from its particular genre for instance. Yet such negative reactions only illuminate how John Woo's style was only superficially relevant in America in the first place — Windtalkers is a Woo film through and through. Cage's Enders is haunted by his past failures, and he uses violence as a form of penance, which ties him to both Chow Yun-Fat's assassin in The Killer and Tony Leung's haunted undercover agent in Hard Boiled. Moreover, the focal point of the story — Cage's relationship to his job as both custodian and killer — is textbook Woo. It's these trappings that recall the director's breakthrough efforts (The Killer, A Better Tomorrow), which owe as much to Douglas Sirk as they do to Sam Peckinpah. Nonetheless, Windtalkers is more than just a retread, as Woo expands on one of his favorite themes: the effect that violence has on those who create it. MGM's DVD release of Windtalkers makes no effort to rectify the movie's reputation, as it includes only two trailers for the picture and bonus trailers as extras. Nevertheless the film is presented in both anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan (1.33:1), and with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. It also should be noted that the version this writer saw theatrically is not the version on the DVD, as some small revisions have been made to the ending of the film — and unfortunately not to its benefit. Keep-case.

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