leave a comment --Ken Fox
Whatever its faults and there are a number of them John Woo's spectacularly violent war movie sheds some light on the crucial contribution Navajo-Americans made to the WWII effort. The year is 1943, and in a remote part of Arizona, a young Native American man boards a bus for Camp Pendleton, Calif. His name is Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), and he's one of several hundred Navajo men recruited by the Marine Corps to serve as "codetalkers," radio operators trained to relay highly sensitive information in their native tongue. Since the unwritten Navajo language is virtually unknown to anyone born outside the tribe, Japanese interceptors have little chance of cracking the code as long as they don't have access to a Navajo translator. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, an entire platoon is slaughtered in the jungles of the Solomon Islands. The company is under the command of Marine Corporal Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage), who holds his position despite the pleas and curses of his dying men. Enders is the only one left alive, but his willingness to follow orders, no matter what, impresses the brass. Once Enders recovers from his injuries, he's promoted to sergeant and given a tough assignment. Enders is to accompany Yahzee onto the battlefields of Saipan an important foothold on the road to taking Tokyo where he's to "protect the code at all costs." The meaning isn't lost on Enders: He's to make sure that Yahzee isn't captured by the enemy, even if it means killing the codetalker himself. No one can choreograph mayhem quite like Woo, who fills the battlefields of Saipan with severed limbs, rolling heads, burning bodies (realistic effects courtesy of horror-makeup maestro Kevin Yagher) and bullets, bullets, bullets. But Woo isn't really the right man to tell this particular story. Fascinated by the bonds violence forges among men, Woo concentrates solely on the difficult relationship between Enders, who's haunted by the men he led to their deaths, and the likeable young recruit he may one day have to kill. The movie deals superficially with Native American pride and racism in the ranks, but it's hardly about the codetalkers at all: Neither Woo nor the screenwriting team of Joe Batteer and John Rice seem to appreciate the bitter irony in a Native American soldier protecting his land by serving the very government that took most of it from him in the first place.