The Pacific Theater in World War II is often a story of codes. Japan never secured its codes – and it cost them on at least two occasions (the Battle of Midway and the events of April 18, 1943 – when Tom Lanphier shot down the Japanese bomber carrying Isoroku Yamamoto). The Americans, on the other hand, looked for ways to keep the codes up to date – and the information in the coded messages away from those who were not supposed to get it.
One of these measures taken was the use of Navajo Indians as codetalkers by the Marine Corps. “Windtalkers” tells this story by following the fictional Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach) and the fictional Marine assigned to guard the code, Sergeant Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage).
The movie captures the essence of what the island-hopping in the Pacific was like. The opening battle in the Solomons is brutal (one man loses his hand), with no punches pulled. But the story is the same. The item most of interest are the orders that Sgt. Enders is given. He is not to protect the codetalker – he is to protect the CODE. If necessary, he is to kill the codetalker to prevent the secrets of that code from being discovered. This is one case of where logic enters a film from Hollywood without harming the drama – the Americans, having taken advantage of two major lapses in Japanese cryptographic security, were not going to take chances with their codes.
The movie takes that dynamic, and ultimately, it weaves that into a superb story. At some point, Enders knows that to help win the war, he may have to kill the person he has come to know, and who has become a friend. The invasion of Saipan, which became one of the bases for the B-29 Superfortresses, is where it comes to the test. The combat scenes are realistic depictions of the land battles in the Pacific – with all the no-holds-barred brutality that occurred most famously at Tarawa and Iwo Jima. The climactic moment, where Enders risks everything to save the code and his friend, hits with a lot of force.
This film is a realistic story about what things were like in the Pacific Theater of World War II for the Marines and on the land. It is not for young kids due to the graphic and realistic violence. Still, for those who want a good story with a strong factual basis in history, Windtalkers is a superb choice that deserved better at the box office. The collector’s edition DVD includes three documentaries on the codetalkers.