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Windtalkers

ACTION, NOT too many emotions, and heavy war special effects, are what MGM's ``Windtalkers" arrive with. A true story tag and John Woo (``A Better Tomorrow" and ``Face Off") at the helm, make the film difficult to ignore. But then as it progresses from one well-choreographed battle scene to another, you wish they hadn't spent so much money on a venture many may not want to see. It is possible that for the sake of dramatic impact, history may have been glossed over but then if the aim has been to show how important it was to integrate the American Indians into the Marines and the magnitude of their contribution to the war against the Japanese in 1941 throughout the Pacific in a gesture of magnanimity, then the makers have succeeded.

Other than its impressive visual choreography of each scene, ``Windtalkers" lacks the emotional depths normally war films come up with. The Navajo code, a secret code taken out of the words spoken in the Navajo language, can only be cracked by them. This is one set of codes the Japanese have been unable to decipher. And what is more, the code is the most important thing, which means that if one of the translators is captured the `good guys,' the Americans, will be forced to kill them! The idea of using this language to create a secure method of wartime communication is credited to Philip Johnston.

Native American languages had been used before to encode messages during World War I. But Johnston knew how important it was that the military found something that just could not be broken.

During the battle, the code talkers' primary objective was to facilitate communication on the battlefield, transmitting information over telephones and radios between marine units and command centres about troop movements, orders, tactics, and other vital information.

The Japanese were never able to break the code and it became an indispensable tool for the World War II military communications. And because of its success and its possible use in future combat, the code talkers were sworn into secrecy about their involvement in the war, and the code was not declassified until 1968. Which is probably why the code talkers' accomplishments went largely unnoticed.

A spectacular visual opening with stark landscape and the parting of a family of Navajo Indians gives this stylised film its texture. The impressive beginning continues into the view of a butterfly which hovers over a plain stream that eventually turns bloody as the body of a dead soldier is revealed. We then meet Joe Enders (Nicholas Cage), a tortured marine soldier whose raw courage in battle during a previous mission cost the lives of his entire platoon.

He is given a rather light assignment of protecting a Navajo private Ben Yahze, (Adam Beach). His orders are `Protect The Code.' If Yahze gets caught, kill him! And we can understand his reluctance to befriend such a member of the troop.

The film then settles down to depicting the long journey towards the end on the Island of Saipan where the Americans hope to make advances towards the mainland of Japan in an assault they will never forget.

Fraught with danger of landmines and hidden Japanese forces the progress is often retarded with many losing their lives in the cross fire. And the dreaded thing does happen. One of the Navajo code breakers, Charles Whitehorse (Roger Willie), is caught by the enemy and Enders is forced to throw a grenade and make sure the whole bunch of them dies. A tragic moment Yahze is unable to come to terms with.

There are several memorable scenes of destruction (Jeffrey Kimball is director of photography) with most of them shot on Hawaii and southern California.

The most explosive Siapan sequences were shot at a privately owned ranch on the windward side of the island of Oahu, Honolulu. Of course James Horner is a celebrated music composer, but in a film such as this he does not find much scope. The sounds and din of the gunfire and mortar are far more dominating.

Performance wise since there is more of running and shouting and escaping the shells there is not much to say except that Nicholas Cage tries his best to adopt the wide eyed look and a detachment that is needed for the character of a man who knows that there is no room for sympathy and pity for his Navajo guide who he may have to kill. To some extent he succeeds. But then that's not the focus of the film.

CHITRA MAHESH

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