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Film / Windtalkers

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Windtalkers is a 2002 military film directed by John Woo, about the Navajo Code Talkers in the Pacific front of World War II.

Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage) is given the job of protecting a Navajo code talker named Ben (Adam Beach). Because the code must not be broken, Joe's orders are to kill Ben should he fall into enemy hands. The movie mostly follows the Battle of Saipan.

Tropes in this film:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The mass-produced katana used to behead Ox with a single stroke.
  • Action Prologue: Joe's first scene in the Solomons in 1943.
  • Anyone Can Die: It's World War II in the Pacific, so this is to be expected. By the end of the film, only Chick, Ben, and Pappas are left of the original squad.
  • Ax-Crazy: Joe turns into a real demon of war during combat, just looking for more kills to score. Later, after Whitehorse is killed, Yahzee takes the role of ax-crazy soldier.
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  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Ox and Whitehorse during their Last Stand.
  • Bayonet Ya: Both the Japanese Army and US Marines are shown using bayonets on their rifles, but the former especially so.
  • Berserk Button: As expected, Ben didn't take The Reveal about Joe's orders mildly.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Joe, to indicate that he's really dying.
  • Blood Knight:
    • Joe enjoys killing the Japs a little too much after being the Sole Survivor of the Solomon Islands campaign. There's actually a close-up of a Cheshire Cat Grin on his face as he gleefully mows down half a dozen Japs with his Tommy-gun in one scene.
    • Ben becomes one following Charlie's death. And, like Joe before him, slaughters any Japanese soldier he comes across.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Reloading? In a John Woo movie? You're kidding, right? This trope is going to absurd levels with Joe's Thompson. Even if he's the only character ever seen reloading, his mags holds a few times more than they should.
  • Call-Back:
    • When in desperate need of a radio, Yahzee recalls how Chick said that Indians look almost Japanese when not in uniform to excuse his attempt to murder Yahzee (though none of the rest of the platoon buy his excuse for a second). The squad promptly starts to collect Japanese uniforms.
    • Later in the film Ben mocks his own words toward Joe. First time, he assured Joe that following orders is the most important thing to do, even more important than saving your friends. But when he learns that Joe is ordered to kill him in case of risking capture, he berates him for mindlessly following orders.
  • The Cavalry: F6F Hellcat Fighter-bombers. Usually too early or too late.
    • Also, the US Navy ships offshore in the first part of the Saipan invasion.
  • Character Development:
  • Communications Officer: Pretty much the role of all the code-talkers such as Ben and Whitehorse.
  • Conflict Ball: The Windtalkers knew how important they were - so much so that they needed a babysitter to keep them safe - but Ben is shocked that among Joe's orders are ones to kill him should he fall into enemy hands.
  • Death by Racism Subverted with Chick, who makes it to the end with nice guys Ben and Pappas. He’s definitely improved by the end of the film, though.
  • Death from Above: Again, the Hellcats.
  • Death Seeker: Joe was the last man standing after his unit got slaughtered, because he insisted that they must obey their orders and hold their ground. It's haunted him ever since, to the point where he's one step from being outright suicidal.
  • Determinator: Joe. Give him an order. He will do anything to fulfill it.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Ben comes up with a way to take out an entrenched Japanese unit through infiltration by putting on a Japanese uniform himself and making his superior Joe look like a captured enemy. The subterfuge is made possible on account of Ben's tanner skin color and non-white features as a Navajo native, which Joe had earlier noted might cause others in the field to mistake him for a Japanese soldier. He really doesn’t look Japanese, which is why Joe also smears Ben’s face with dirt, hoping that a guy who’s not white in a Japanese uniform will fool the enemy just long enough to get to the radio.
  • Fatal Family Photo: The whole unit is watching photos of their beloved ones... right before coming under heavy artillery fire.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Everyone in the unit.
  • Flamethrower Backfire: The film does this to Harrigan
  • Foil: Ox and Charlie to Ben and Joe. The two develop a genuine friendship, and display more loyalty to each other. While Joe is willing to follow their orders to kill the code talkers if necessary, Ox is unable to do so when the moment arrives, and is justified by him and Charlie managing to fight off their attackers unforuatley, it's only a brief Hope Spot.
  • Genre Blind: Ben, regarding Joe's orders again.
  • Hidden Depths: Joe. Sure, he is a killing machine with serious problems, but outside the battlefield he's really a nice guy. Even toward nominal enemies, as shown with the sick kid to whom he gave his pain-killers.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: The Navajo Code was derived from the tribe’s language, but it was still a code.
  • Hold the Line: Joe's unit in the Solomons at the beginning of the film is assigned this mission. Unfortunately, they soon become outnumbered and outgunned by the Japanese, and are wiped out as a result.
  • Human Shield: Ox uses one of the Japanese soldiers to block a stab from a bayonet.
  • Hyperventilation Bag: Pappas is shown a few times using one.
  • It Has Been an Honor: Ben and Joe toward each other at the end.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Joe. If the Thompson submachine gun was half as accurate as it's shown in his hands, it would have been the ultimate weapon of WWII, especially with his 30-round mags that are evidently packed with 200+ rounds each.
    • The Thompson actually is a very accurate weapon...when fired semiauto. Joe’s long bursts would put one hole in the target and fifteen more...somewhere far, far away.
  • Indy Ploy: The whole get-to-the-Japanese-radio plan is made more or less on the move.
  • Jungle Warfare: The first battle scene, set in the Solomons during 1942 or 1943, is a textbook example, with patrols, ambushes, and supply problems in the span of less than 4 minutes.
    • The first battle set on Saipan counts as well, thanks to the thick overgrowth on the lower areas of the island.
  • Just Plane Wrong: The F6F Hellcats are appropriate for the Battle of Saipan. Their insistence on dropping bombs from an altitude that should see them blown out of the sky by those very bombs, or the bombs’ defiance of the laws of physics, decidedly less so. It would have been far more appropriate if the planes had just been given HVAR rockets instead, which do pretty much the same thing, and would make much more sense to use at low altitude. Additionally, the close air support mission was much more likely to be performed by Marine F4U Corsairs than Navy Hellcats.note 
  • Kid Amid the Chaos: The sobbing little girl in the ruined village that Harrigan tries to comfort with a bar of chocolate.
  • Knife Nut: Whitehorse carries a big Bowie knife that he uses to good effect.
  • Man on Fire: Harrigan is this before he is mercy killed by Joe.
    • Also the numerous IJA soldiers killed by flamethrowers and incendiary grenades.
  • Manly Tears: Joe cries during his Not So Stoic moments.
  • Mercy Kill: Joe has orders to do this if his windtalker should fall into enemy hands, to both save the man from torture and protect the code.
    • Also Harrigan is given this.
  • Mighty Whitey: Nicolas Cage saves the day and is a hero, while the Navajo characters are relegated to the sidelines and receive far less character development.
  • Mood Whiplash: After upbeat talk about their families and home the main characters are suddenly under artillery fire. Friendly artillery fire.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Both Ben and Whitehorse. They not only have no idea into what kind of hell they getting themselves, but are also completely unprepared for racial ostracization by fellow soldiers.
  • Never Trust a Title: Joe is the center of attention and the protagonist in the movie, the windtalkers are... there.
  • Nice Guy: PFC Harrigan, the flame gunner, whose job it is to incinerate enemy troops with napalm.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Oh, Harrigan, how nice of you to feed a starving little girl... time to blow up your flamethrower and let you burn alive!
  • Noun Verber
  • Off with His Head!: Henderson suffers this fate.
  • One-Man Army: Joe, combining this with Do-Anything Soldier. While being deaf in one ear and living under the heavy burden of Survivor Guilt, he is still capable of taking down dozens of enemies alone. Heck, he got two Silver Stars for his insane fighting skills and determination. Somewhat justified, as he’s a Death Seeker who takes insane risks that should get him killed.
  • Plot Armor: Subverted. Until the attack on the village, everything seems to follow this trope, with heroes going through impossible situations. After that scene, Anyone Can Die.
  • Poor Communication Kills: There was really no reason to withhold the information from the Windtalkers that their babysitters were supposed to kill them should they fall into enemy hands. It wasn't like the windtalkers didn't already know how important they were. Heck, if things were that dangerous, they should have already been trained how best to take themselves out before the enemy gets to them.note 
  • Reckless Sidekick: During their last fight Ben is so enraged that he basically endangers his whole squad by going berserk.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Yahzee, after Whitehorse is killed.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Joe.
  • Shovel Strike: Ben is using an entrenching shovel to defend himself during the final battle.
  • Sitting Duck: The Marine Sherman and Stuart tanks usually end up destroyed before being able to fire back. See Tanks for Nothing below.
  • Slashed Throat: Whitehorse and Yahzee, who uses Bowie knives as their backup weapons, disposes many Japanese soldiers using this method. And then there's a Mexican Standoff between Yahzee and a Japanese soldier, who's interrupted by Joe sneaking up behind the Jap and slicing his throat.
  • Stab the Scorpion: During the village battle, Whitehorse throws his friggin' huge bowie knife towards Chick, who was previously shown to be racist towards Native American soldiers... and kills the Japanese soldier sneaking up on Chick. This moment of rescue causes Chick to have a change of attitude towards the minority soldiers.
  • Survivor's Guilt: Joe suffers from this due to being the Sole Survivor of his squad in the battle on the Solomon Islands.
  • Take a Third Option: When Joe can either fight the Japanese or kill Ben to keep the code secured, he choose to take him on his back and run for safety.
  • Tanks for Nothing: The Sherman and Stuart tanks shown during the assault on Saipan end up as Sitting Ducks to Japanese artillery fire each time.
    • The Japanese tanks prove useless for the most part as well, being taken out easily with small arms and flamethrowers, which is almost Truth in Television.
  • Technical Pacifist: Ben starts as one... where he ends up is another story.
  • Tranquil Fury: Joe. All the time.
  • Trojan Prisoner: When Ben dresses up as a Japanese soldier and takes his "captive" Joe into a Japanese camp in order to gain access to a working radio.
  • Overcrank: After all it's John Woo's film.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Chick was trying to pull this on Ben.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: There were Navajo code talkers, and they really were instrumental in the Pacific Theater,note  but the characters in this movie are all fictional.
    • At least the posters say "inspired by" rather than "based on".
  • War Is Hell: As far as Hollywood allows, this trope is taken to the extreme. Mutilation of bodies, everyone dropping dead like slaughtered animals, extensive use of banzai charges, accidental friendly fire, Mercy Kills for friends...
    • The very worst part of the Battle of Saipan, the mass-suicide of Japanese civilians on the battle’s final day (with Japanese soldiers shooting those who hesitated to kill themselves), is not shown. Probably for the best.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to the inhabitants of the village during and after the IJA attack?
    • The historical record doesn’t bode well for them.
  • White Male Lead: Advertised as the saga of how Navajo Indians used their language to create an unbreakable code that helped win World War II in the Pacific, the entire movie ends up revolving around Nicolas Cage and demotes the Navajo windtalkers to the sidelines.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Ben. He's just an idealistic guy who wants to protect his country.


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