John Woo’s Windtalkers is a brutal, somber, joyless affair, a muddy and hopeless war picture that contains little of the ethereal poise of stuff like The Thin Red Line or heroic muscle such as Saving Private Ryan. As long as you can adjust and tune into it’s frequency it’s a well made, sorrowful look at the American effort against Japan, particularly a mission involving a regiment whose task is to protect Native Navajo code breakers that can detect messages fired off by the enemy. A mopey Nicolas Cage is their shell shocked leader, pressing his men onward into territory that no doubt contains the same horrors he witnessed before the film begins. We find him in a trauma ward initially, cared for by a kindly nurse (Frances O’Connor), until Jason Isaacs cameos as the recruitment officer who spurs him back into action. His troupe is composed solely of excellent, distinct acting talent and they help the film considerably. The Navajo are played by Adam Beach and Roger Willie, giving grace and nobility to two men who are out of their depth and terrified. Peter Stormare, Christian Slater, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt and a standout Martin Henderson are the rest of the troops, each getting their moment to shine within the unit’s cohesive arc. Woo is an odd choice for a war picture, and his stylized flair for bullet ridden action is nowhere to be found in these bleak, bloodied trenches, trading in suits and duel wielded glocks for faded camo and muted rifle fire. The action is neither cathartic nor poetic, simply a concussive cacophony of combat that offers little aesthetic pleasure, forcing you to find the value in empathy towards these men, and as long as you can do that, you’ll get something out of it.
I really enjoyed Richard Donner’s Timeline, despite some bad reviews and an awful reputation. It’s based on a book by the great Michael Crichton, and centers around what is one of the most fascinating and enjoyable premises out there: time travel. There’s nothing like a time travel flick, in any way, shape or form. I’m a sucker for them. This one starts off with an archeological dig somewhere in England, leading to the abrupt discovery of forces that allow a wormhole in time to be used, sending people back to the middle ages. Paul Walker discovers that his researcher father (Billy Connolly) has made the leap back in time, and may be in trouble. Along with his sort of girlfriend (Frances O Connor) and his father’s friend (Gerard Butler) they venture back to find him, and of course everything goes wrong. They land smack in the middle of a skirmish between a poncy English lord (Michael Sheen) and the leader of the French faction (Lambert Wilson), with no identities, nothing to defend themselves with and not a clue what to do. Back home in our time (or, rather, 2003. Time flies, don’t it?), the head of the program responsible for harnessing the wormhole’s power (a slimy David Thewlis) is a greedy prick who can’t really be trusted with the technology, prompting the suspicion of his assistant (Matt Craven). Walker, Butler and company are now faced with a full on castle siege that’s quite the dandy set piece, forced to take up arms and fight for their lives as well as a way home. Walker is amusingly out of place in a medieval setting but it works considering the plot. Butler is terrific, bringing his old world style to a character arc that is lovely to see play out. Connolly, although not in the film that much, lights up the screen with his genial kindness and likability that he brings to every film. Neal McDonough, Anna Friel and Marton Csokas also costar. It’s simply an adventure piece that doesn’t think logistics too much, and in turn doesn’t require you to do so either. Underrated stuff.