Film: Shooting the Silent Breeze; Based on Expolits of Navajo Indians during World War II. Nicolas Cage Found His Role Very Different from Captain Corelli Mike Davies Decodes John Woo's Windtalkers

The Birmingham Post (England), August 31, 2002 | Go to article overview

Film: Shooting the Silent Breeze; Based on Expolits of Navajo Indians during World War II. Nicolas Cage Found His Role Very Different from Captain Corelli Mike Davies Decodes John Woo's Windtalkers


Byline: Mike Davies

Thanks to an assortment of books, documentaries, plays and the recent film we're relatively familiar here with the work of the code-breakers at Bletchley Park and their contribution to ending WWII by cracking the Germans' enigma code.

Yet most Americans are completely unaware that 29 Native-Americans played an equally vital part in helping win the war in the Pacific by creating a code the Japanese were unable to break.

It was not until 1968, when the information was declassified, that any but a select few knew that in 1942 the Marines recruited 29 Navajo Indians to develop a code based on their language to facilitate communication on the battlefield.

They created a code using basic Navajo words to symbolize 211 common military and wartime words and phrases. In turn these Marines eventually trained around 400 Navajo who went on to serve as code talkers in the Pacific.

Because even a slight change in pronunciation and/or inflection of a Navajo word can change its meaning and because it is an unwritten language with no reference sources, the Japanese were never able to break it. But, what if they had captured a code-talker?

That scenario provides the basis for Windtalkers, the latest action drama from renowned director John Woo in which Nicolas Cage stars as a marine who, traumatized by a previous battle experience where following orders led to the loss of his entire platoon, is appointed bodyguard to a Navajo code-talker.

His orders are simple, protect him. But if that proves impossible, then protect the code. At all costs. There is no historical evidence that such orders were ever given, and it would have been illegal to order a Marine to kill a fellow Marine. But as the fulcrum for a war movie's dramatic and emotional dilemma, it was irresistible. Especially for Woo whose early Hong Kong films were deeply concerned with themes of friendship and honour between men.

'That's what really attracted me,' he says. 'I've done so many different movies: comedies, gangster films, kung fu and even Chinese opera. And movies like Face/Off and Mission Impossible. I felt I should do something a little more serious and I wanted to go back to my old style. I had never heard anything about the codetalkers or the Navajo people, so when the writers brought this story to me I was stunned. They did a lot to help win the war and their story has never been told. I felt this was a movie I should make.'

For Cage playing Joe Enders was a return to the Second World War, albeit in a different theatre than that of Captain Corelli's Mandolin and with a decidedly different character.

'Joe and Corelli are like two opposite sides of the coin,' he explains. 'Corelli is not really a soldier at all, he's a musician and he finds himself in a war situation and doesn't know what he's doing there and becomes a man. He's a likable guy, a lovable human being whereas Joe is very intense, somebody who's been so struck down by war that he's become somebody that you would not necessarily want to have a drink with. This is a guy who's very cold, distant, very remote and aloof. I wanted to try my hand at painting that picture of a man and somehow make you still feel emotion for him.'

But whatever the story meant for Cage and Woo it meant far more for Roger Willie who plays code-talker Charlie Whitehorse. …

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