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Windtalkers is a 2002 action war film directed by John Woo, director of Face/Off. Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater star as two USmarker Marine sergeants assigned to protect Navajo code talkers in Saipan during World War II.


The film begins with then Corporal Joe Enders (Cage) and a platoon of his fellow Marines fighting Japanese forces on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in 1943. The outnumbered Marines are killed one by one, and as Enders mourns over the body of a friend, a grenade explosion knocks Enders unconscious.

Enders is then transported to a field hospital where he is awarded the Purple Heart, before being transported to a military hospital. By mid-1944 Enders has mostly healed from his physical wounds except for troubled hearing in one ear. Considered unfit for duty unless he can pass a hearing test, a sympathetic female pharmacist's mate 2nd class helps Enders cheat to pass. Enders is promoted to sergeant and returns to active duty. Now a grim, taciturn combat veteran who is almost deaf in one ear, Enders receives a top priority assignment protecting Navajo code talker Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach). Less jaded Sergeant Ox Henderson (Christian Slater) receives a parallel assignment protecting Navajo Charlie Whitehorse (Roger Willie). They are told that the code can not fall into enemy hands, which means that if the codetalker is about to be captured they are to kill him to ensure the Japanese can't break the code. Also in their squad are Pvt. Chick, who is equipped with a BAR, the easily-hyperventilating Greek-American Pvt. Pappas, Pvt. Harrigan, who is armed with a flamethrower, and Pvt. Nellie (played respectively by Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt and Martin Henderson).

The Marines land at Saipan under heavy fire from the Japanese forces. Yazzie and Whitehorse receive their first taste of war with Yazzie often wincing and showing signs of disgust at all the death around him. He is also shocked at how Enders mercilessly kills the Japanese troops, who is hearing the dying voices of his fellow troops two years ago in Guadalcanal. In the battle Yazzie never opens fire on the Japanese forces, although he and Whitehorse first apply their code talking to guide battleship bombardment on the Japanese positions.

When the beachhead is secured, the Marines advance further into Saipan. Their convoy comes under artillery fire however and causes them to take cover. The artillery fire is then revealed to be from American guns, which are meant to be targeting Japanese positions just ahead of the road. Yazzie's radio is caught in the bombardment, disabling it, which meant that the group has no way to call off the artillery. The commander then orders them to attack the Japanese positions so as to avoid the American bombardment. In the battle Pvt. Nellie is killed by the artillery when he attempts to save a wounded man. A plan is devised which involves Yazzie, disguised as a Japanese soldier, and Enders sneaking behind the Japanese lines to use their radio. The pair manages to reach the radio and Yazzie, after hesitating, kills the radioman before contacting the American artillery. He adjusts their fire so the bombardment will destroy the Japanese position. After the battle, Enders is awarded the Silver Star for saving the lives of his fellow marines. However, he gives the medal to Pvt Pappas to send to Nellie's wife back home.

The group moves on to a Japanese village where the Marines make camp and Yazzie is called back to headquarters. Later the village is attacked by Japanese troops. Harrigan is killed when Enders shoots him to stop the pain when his flamethrower unit explodes, setting him alight. Henderson is decapitated defending Whitehorse, who is almost captured by the Japanese. Enders arrives seeing Whitehorse being taken away and, after hesitation and approval from Whitehorse himself, follows his orders to protect the Navajo code, killing Whitehorse and the Japanese with a grenade.

After the Japanese forces are eliminated, Yazzie, returning from headquarters questions Enders on Whitehorse's whereabouts. Enders replies that he killed him. Yazzie, who does not know about Enders' mission, attacks Enders in frustration and almost shoots him before the rest of the squad stops him.

Near the end of the battle the group is sent to check out a ridge that has been bombarded by artillery. On the way the group walks into a minefield and is then attacked by the Japanese. After fighting their way out they reach the ridge, only to discover the Japanese guns are intact. The Japanese guns then proceed to fire on an American column caught out in the open. When the squad move towards the guns the commander, Gunnery Sergeant Hjelmstad (Peter Stormare), is killed by enemy fire and command of the group passes to Enders. In contrast of the landing scene (and very much like Enders' merciless killing during the landing scene), Yazzie starts attacking the Japanese forces fearlessly, killing large numbers of Japanese troops in anger over his friend's death. In his careless frenzy, he loses the radio which they need to call in air support to destroy the guns. As Yazzie and Enders attempt to retrieve the radio, both of them are shot but they get to the radio and get into cover. They are then surrounded by the Japanese and Yazzie tries to get Enders to shoot him to protect the code but Enders refuses and carries Yazzie to safety. Yazzie then calls in air support which destroys the Japanese guns, saving the American column. Yazzie then sees that Enders was shot in the chest whilst carrying him and moves to stop the blood loss. However Enders stops him, gasping his last words to Yazzie about how he didn't want to kill Whitehorse before he died. The film ends with Yazzie back in the United States with his wife and son on top of a mesa at Monument Valley, Arizona, performing a Navajo ritual to pay his respects to Enders.


The film reportedly cost $100 million, but made only $40 million at the US box-office and only $70 million worldwide. The film's release was delayed multiple times and it received mostly negative reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film two stars, remarking that "the filmmakers have buried it beneath battlefield cliches, while centering the story on a white character played by Nicolas Cage."

The movie was criticized for featuring the Navajo characters only in supporting roles; they were not the primary focus of the film. It was further criticized for use of stereotypes of both Native Americans and east Asians.


Awards and nominations

Year Award Winner/Nominee Category Result
2003 Harry Award Best Supporting Actor
World Stunt Awards Brett A. Jones Best Fire Stunt
Al Goto & David Wald Best Fire Stunt
Spencer Sano Best High Work


Steve Termath was originally cast for the role of Private Nellie. The role, however, went to Martin Henderson when Termath took a brief hiatus from acting for actual military service, enlisting in the United States Army Reserve. Filming locations on Hawaiimarker included Kualoa Ranch, the location where Lost and Jurassic Park were shot. Some violence was trimmed in order to avoid an NC-17 rating. A few Navajos who saw the movie complained that Adam Beach's character should have been given to the role of a real Navajo actor.

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