from Film Forum, 06/20/02
Speaking of Windtalkers, critics are bemoaning what could have been an affecting story about the influence of Native Americans in the America's World War II efforts. Instead, many are claiming that director John Woo (The Killer, Face/Off, Mission Impossible 2) has turned it into two hours of excruciating, gratuitous violence, reducing the cultural story to merely a useful plot device.
Peter T. Chattaway (Vancouver Courier) says, "The violence takes place on such a grand scale that it dwarfs the characters, who are, after all, just cogs in a larger military machine. [Woo] … wants this to be a brutally realistic war movie, in the mold of Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, and the resulting barrage of sound and fury, with occasional heroics thrown in for good measure, grows numbing." Similarly, the USCCB's critic finds it "a monotonous, bloody World War II drama that fails to move the viewer despite the story's historical relevance."
Phil Boatwright is also bothered by "bodies blown apart, flamethrowers setting countless stuntmen ablaze, and if something can be severed, it gets severed." But he adds, "Woo is a magician with imagery, giving the film an incredible look. The acting is superb. And it's nice to see a film concerning cowboys and Indians on the same side."
Ed Crumley (Preview) describes the film as cursed with "too many curses, graphic explosions, and war violence, and lame dialogue."
Lisa Rice and Tom Snyder (Movieguide) argue, "The decisions these soldiers face are resolved in a way that stresses sacrifice, heroism, and saving lives in a just cause. Windtalkers seems to have a solid Christian worldview." But they complain that "the movie could have used a stronger focus on God, not to mention Jesus Christ."
Mainstream critics were similarly troubled. Roger Ebert makes his contempt for the film clear: "Windtalkers comes advertised as the saga of how Navajo Indians used their language to create an unbreakable code that helped win World War II. That's a fascinating, little-known story and might have made a good movie. Alas, the filmmakers have buried it beneath battlefield clichés, while centering the story on a white character. Why does Hollywood find it impossible to trust minority groups with their own stories? The Navajo code talkers have waited a long time to have their story told. Too bad it appears here merely as a gimmick in an action picture."