“Woo Does War”. Musta seemed like a great idea at the time: give the legendary Hong Kong director director of Vietnamese war epic “Bullet In The Head” (and mega-success “Mission Impossible 2“) a bigger budget, an A-List star and ..well, you get the picture.
From the opening trademark shot of the beauty of nature (instead of Woo’s traditional slo-mo doves, its butterflies this time, before the river turns to a river of blood, chaos and bullets) to the continuing Woo obsession of interminable shots of the deserts of Utah, this almost plays out like a parody in excelsis of Woo’s signature touches. And its all downhill from there….
Plotwise, this is follows Anders (Nicolas Cage), an Army Sergeant in World War II, befriended by fellow marine Enderson (Christian Slater*). When Anders is badly wounded, he makes his way back to the field assigned to protect a “Windtalker” – (played by *Adam Beach) - Navaho Indian volunteers using their native language as a code that the Japanese cannot be allowed to break at any cost. So when he’s shipped out to invade the Japanese held island of Sai-Pan, he’s there in the frontline.Like Private Ryan, the mission is a man... and the plot is thinner than Kate Moss on a diet.
In these post “Saving Private Ryan” times, Woo’s approach is shooting it like a slowly unfolding ballet, rather than concentrating on kinetic hyper-realism of warfare.It’s a film that while graphic and unflinching, doesn’t glorify war,but doesn’t tell us how bad it is either. Its just presented in a matter-of-fact way - Stuff just well…happens. It’s got more in common with something like “The Thin Red Line”, slowly moving in places interspersed with random, unexciting war sequences. Its telling that all the best bits are in the trailer.
But all its best efforts are ruined when in the middle of frantic battles , we suddenly **SEE! Nic Cage’s hair suddenly cuts itself miraculously! SEE! the seemingly invincible and indestructible Nic Cage walk through clouds of bullets unharmed, yet everyone else dies horrifically! SEE the ‘never ending bullet’ syndrome where guns never need reloading and shoot off hundreds of rounds from one magazine!
Worst of all is John Woo’s once legendary cinematic style – Once fluid, it was kinetic, it shocked Hollywood and made it stand up and notice. Here it seems dull, plodding, boring. This isn’t as bad as _“Hard Target” (but there again, that had Van-Damme in it) , but after the highs of “Face:Off” and “Hard Boiled”, “Windtalkers” is his worst movie in a long long time. A creative and box office misfire, and that’s an understatement.
Woo’s on autopilot, and it shows – the best thing here is Cage, and that’s simply because he’s not overacting like a loon on Lucozade (unlike _"Gone On 60 Seconds" ). Its just another war movie, and not a particularly good one at that. And that's just not good enough..... especially when halfway through a movie you look at the cinema timetable to see if there's better on afterwards you might be able to sneak into to make up for what you're watching -as I did watching this - thats a bad sign indeed. I mean is it possible to make a boring war movie with this amount of talent? Obviously so, because thats what John Woo has just done. This is not a movie to be enjoyed, but endured, so put that fiver (or £10 if you're in the West End) back in your pocket and go to see something else instead.You won't regret not seeing this one.
4Graham Reed's Score