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Windtalkers: Director's Edition

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 "Director's Edition" DVD release of Windtalkers finally gives the film its due, with a three-disc set that presents the picture in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The film is presented as a director's cut that adds roughly 20 minutes of well-integrated new material. This also comes with a director's introduction, along with three audio commentaries: the first by John Woo and producer Terrence Chang, the second with Nicholas Cage and Christian Slater, the third with Roger Willie and Navajo consultant Albert Smith. Also on the first disc are the theatrical and teaser trailers, along with bonus trailers. The other two discs are a bit light, and could have easily been put on one platter: Disc Two includes the featurettes "The Code Talkers – A Secret Code of Honor," (23 min.) "American Heroes: A Tribute to the Navajo Code Talkers" (9 min.), and "The Music of Windtalkers" (5 min.), while Disc Three sports "Battle Sequence Multi-View" featuring four scenes offering three angles in which to view them (with a combined running time of less than 10 minutes); "Fly-on-the-Set Scene Diaries" with four vignettes of on set experiences (24 min.); and "Actor's Boot Camp" (15 minutes) showing Cage's crew training. Also included is a photo gallery and a John Woo biography. Three-DVD digipak with paperboard slipcase.

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