Windtalkers is a 2002 American war film directed and produced by John Woo, starring Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Peter Stormare, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, and Christian Slater.
During World War II, US Marine corporal Joseph F. “Joe” Enders returns to active duty with the aid of his pharmacist, Rita, having previously survived a gruesome battle on the Solomon Islands against the Imperial Japanese Army that killed his entire squad and left him almost deaf in his left ear. Enders’ new assignment is to protect Navajo code talker Pvt. Ben Yahzee, and carries a promotion for Enders to Sergeant in a JASCO. Sgt. Pete “Ox” Henderson also receives a parallel assignment protecting Navajo code talker Pvt. Charlie Whitehorse.
Yahzee and Whitehorse, childhood friends from the Navajo tribe, are trained to send and receive coded messages that direct artillery fire. Enders and Henderson are instructed to kill their code talkers if capture is imminent so that the code cannot fall into enemy hands. As Enders and Henderson meet Yahzee and Whitehorse, it becomes apparent that the two experienced Marines are less than happy to be babysitting their Navajo codetalkers, and the Navajos must also endure racial harassment by some of the white Marines, notably Private Chick. During their missions, however, Henderson and Whitehorse discover a mutual love of music. Enders and Yahzee also discover that they have much in common, notably their Catholic upbringings.
The invasion of Saipan in the Mariana Islands becomes Yahzee’s and Whitehorse’s first combat experience. After the beachhead is secured, the Marines come under friendly fire from US artillery. Yahzee’s radio is destroyed and the convoy is unable to call off the bombardment. Yahzee suggests that he disguise himself as a Japanese soldier and slip behind enemy lines to commandeer a radio, with Enders as his prisoner. Yahzee is forced to kill for the first time before he can redirect U.S. artillery fire onto the Japanese position. For their bravery, Enders is awarded a Silver Star by the commanding officer, with Yahzee’s role almost ignored until Enders points him out but still credits Enders.
That night, the Marines camp in the nearby village of Tanapag. While Yahzee is temporarily assigned back to the command post to translate a code, Enders becomes increasingly torn because he cannot imagine killing Yahzee, despite his orders. He demands to be relieved from his unit but his request is denied. The next morning, Japanese soldiers ambush the village. Henderson is killed and Whitehorse is about to be captured. Enders sees Whitehorse being beaten and dragged away by the Japanese. Realising the Japanese will torture him for the code, Enders throws a grenade at Whitehorse, killing him and his captors.
Yahzee returns to Tanapag and, seeing Whitehorse’s body, screams at Enders to explain what happened as the village was thought to be secured. Enders mutters that he killed Whitehorse, but does not reveal that Whitehorse was willing to die to protect the code. Outraged, Yahzee aims his weapon at Enders but cannot bring himself to kill him. Enders confesses that he hated having to kill Whitehorse and that, like Henderson, his mission was to protect the code above all else.
The Marines are mobilised on another mission and are once again ambushed, this time near a deadly minefield on Mount Tapochau, during which many Marines are killed. Enders, Yahzee, Chick, and Cpl. Pappas (the last of the Marines) take cover on a ridge and see Japanese artillery fire from the top of the ridge attacking a Marine convoy below their position. Still enraged over the death of Whitehorse, Yahzee charges the Japanese line, and in doing so, fumbles the radio needed to call in the coordinates for a bombardment. Yahzee and Enders are both shot as they retrieve the radio and call in an airstrike on the Japanese artillery. However, surrounded and knowing the Japanese will capture and torture him for the code as they almost did with Whitehorse, Yahzee entreats Enders to kill him. Enders, determined that no one else will die that day, manages to carry Yahzee to safety. Friendly planes arrive and the Japanese position is successfully destroyed. Yahzee rejoices in their success though Enders, mortally wounded, dies.
Returning to the US, Yahzee, his wife, and his son George Washington Yahzee, sit atop Point Mesa in Monument Valley, Arizona, and, wearing the sacred necklaces and other Navajo ceremonial dress, performs the Navajo ritual of paying respects to Enders.
An epilogue states that the Navajo code was crucial to America’s success against Japan across the Pacific theatre and that, during the war, like all other Native American codes, the Navajo code was never broken.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): John Woo.
- Producer(s): Terence Chang, Tracie Graham-Rice, Alison Rosenzweig, John Woo, and C.O. Erickson.
- Writer(s): Joe Batteer and John Rice.
- Music: James Horner.
- Cinematography: Jeffery L. Kimball.
- Editor(s): Jeff Gullo, Steven Kemper, and Tom Rolf.
- Production: Lion Rock Productions and MGM.
- Distributor(s): MGM Distribution Co.
- Release Date: 14 June 2002.
- Running Time: 134 minutes.
- Country: US and Hong Kong.
- Language: English.