Friday, 15 May 2009
Nicolas Cage stars in this factual World War Two drama directed by action supremeo John Woo. The film opens with a young Navajo Indian leaving his family in Arizona to enlist in the war effort. Meanwhile Cage’s division is having a hard time in the Solomon Islands with he the sole survivor. As he slowly rehabilitates back on base with the aid of a friendly nurse, the Indian goes through his training. A new unbreakable code has been developed using the Navajo language with these new ‘code talkers’ a prize asset for the Americans and target for the Japs.
Cage is charged with looking after his code talker and secretly told that he cannot allow his man to be taken alive. Cage has rushed his return to duty and has issues regarding the loss of his men. He is unhappy with his babysitting role and his relationship with his new charge gets off to a frosty start in a scene familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a cop movie. The guys are soon spearheading the assault on Japan with Cage’s damaged Sergeant enjoying the killing perhaps too much.
As you’d probably guess Cage’s distain for his charge starts to thaw when he sees the value and bravery of him in combat. His fellow babysitter Christian Slater meanwhile is getting on fine with his charge and they enjoy regular jam sessions on the mouth organ. The code talker plan comes under strain however when their base is attacked and Slater has to decide whether he can obey the order to kill his man rather than let the Japs capture him. Sadly Slater loses his head over the incident and Cage his mind as he has to make a deadly, and messy, choice.
As the conquest of the island of Taipei nears it’s conclusion the Japs wheel out the big guns and our men are caught under fire. Will the tensions between the men prevent them winning the day and can the anguished Cage find redemption?
This is an enjoyable film but doesn’t quite tick all the boxes needed to award it ‘classic’ status. The battle scenes are well handled and epic in their scale but some of the skirmishes have an overly choreographed look about them. The chaos of a murderous battle isn’t really conveyed when our man bashes a few Japs does a diving roll to shoot another before springing up to knife another. The violence isn’t of the gratuitous nature, well is you discount Slater’s head at any rate.
What annoyed me was the lack of focus on the code talker angle. The set up for the film makes you think this will save the day but sometimes our man just gets on the horn and yells for covering fire. Other time the elaborate code is used through various relays to give the coordinates of Jap positions - why bother with the code? - the Japs know where they are.
The main flaw of the film is the lack of invention and surprises. We know Cage is troubled and need to be redeemed, we know he has to shoot his man if he’s in danger and we know the native will have trouble with the red neck element of the unit. What follows are a series of predictable scenes where each of the set ups come off and are resolved as you’d imagine. I’m not saying they should have thrown in some aliens or anything but ultimately the journey from A to B to C could have been mixed up somewhat.
The decent supporting cast which includes Mark Ruffalo and the ever dependable Peter Stormare are all good in underwritten roles but I could have done without Slater’s nice guy who toots his mouthie before heading off.
Although I enjoyed the film it could have been so much better and it’s a pity that the code talking that the plot hangs on seemed to be included as an afterthought.
Best Bit : Big fight at the end
‘W’ Score 15/23