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Windtalkers movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Woo
Written by
  • Joe Batteer
  • John Rice
Produced by
CinematographyJeffrey L. Kimball
Edited by
Music byJames Horner
Distributed byMGM Distribution Co. (United States)
20th Century Fox (International)[1]
Release date
  • June 14, 2002 (2002-06-14)
Running time
134 minutes[1]
153 minutes (Director's Cut)
CountryUnited States
Budget$115 million[2]
Box office$77.6 million[2]

Windtalkers is a 2002 American war film directed and co-produced by John Woo, starring Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Peter Stormare, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, and Christian Slater. It is based on the real story of Navajo code talkers during World War II. C. O. Erickson was the executive producer. The film was released in the United States on June 14, 2002, and received mixed reviews and proved to be financially unsuccessful, grossing just $77.6 million worldwide against a production budget of $115 million.


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.

Yazzie 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 Yazzie 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 Yazzie's and Whitehorse's first combat experience. After the beachhead is secured, the Marines come under friendly fire from U.S. artillery. Yazzie's radio is destroyed and the convoy is unable to call off the bombardment. Yazzie suggests that he disguise himself as a Japanese soldier and slip behind enemy lines to commandeer a radio, with Enders as his prisoner. Yazzie 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 Yazzie's role almost ignored until Enders points him out.

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. Realizing 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 mobilized 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 U.S., 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 theater and that, during the war, like all other Native American codes, the Navajo code was never broken.



Filming locations on Hawaii included Kualoa Ranch, the location where Lost and Jurassic Park were shot. To portray the Marines in the film the producers recruited extras that were volunteers from Schofield Barracks Army Base, Hickam Air Force Base, Pearl Harbor Naval Station, and Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station. Some of the actual Marines from 4th Force Recon Company were used in the film portraying their actual job. Some violence was trimmed in order to avoid an NC-17 rating. This violence trim was restored for the Director's cut released on DVD running 153 minutes. The film's release date was moved from November 9, 2001, to June 14, 2002.[3]

For the F6F Hellcat fighters that appear in the beach-landing scenes on Saipan, the producers used computer-generated versions.[4]


Box office[edit]

The film was a box office bomb, grossing only under $41 million at the US box-office and a total of $77.6 million worldwide, against a production budget of $115 million.[2]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 32% based on reviews from 168 critics. The site's consensus states: "The action sequences are expertly staged. Windtalkers, however, sinks under too many clichés and only superficially touches upon the story of the code talkers."[5] On Metacritic the film has a score of 51% based on reviews from 25 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[6] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade B+ on scale of A to F.[7]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2 out of 4 stars, remarking that "the filmmakers have buried it beneath battlefield cliches, while centering the story on a white character played by Nicolas Cage".[8] Robert Koehler of Variety called it "A powerful premise turned into a stubbornly flat, derivative war movie."[9]

The film was criticized for featuring the Navajo characters only in supporting roles; they were not the primary focus of the film.[10] The film was ranked number four on's "10 Most Inaccurate Military Movies Ever Made" which also included The Patriot, The Hurt Locker, U-571, The Green Berets, Pearl Harbor, Battle of the Bulge, Red Tails, Enemy at the Gates and Flyboys on its list of falsified war movie productions.[11]

About the response, John Woo said: "The main themes of Windtalkers are friendship and understanding. Unfortunately, the studio wanted a John Wayne movie, just a typical American hero film with explosions every few minutes. I had to make them understand that this wasn't a story about heroes. It's a story about a man and his own demons, trying to redeem himself from war. I made the movie that way, but some people in the studio didn't appreciate it and, in the end, I guess neither did the audience."[12]


Year Award Recipients Category Result
2003 Harry Award Appreciation of History Nominated
World Stunt Awards Brett A. Jones Best Fire Stunt Won
Al Goto & David Wald Best Fire Stunt Nominated
Spencer Sano Best High Work Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "WINDTALKERS (15)". British Board of Film Classification. May 3, 2002. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "Windtalkers". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  3. ^ "MGM Bumps John Woo's WWII Drama 'Windtalkers' From Nov. 9 to June 14". October 1, 2001. Archived from the original on October 4, 2001. Retrieved September 21, 2019 – via The Hollywood Reporter.
  4. ^ "Windtalkers, a 'soulful' story about friendship during war" (PDF). In Camera. October 2001. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 7, 2008.
  5. ^ "Windtalkers". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
  6. ^ "Windtalkers". Metacritic. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
  7. ^ "WINDTALKERS (2002) B+". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 14, 2002). "Windtalkers". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
  9. ^ Koehler, Robert (June 4, 2002). "Windtalkers". Variety.
  10. ^ Thom, Fred. "Windtalkers". Plume Noire. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  11. ^ Barker, Chris. "10 Most Inaccurate Military Movies Ever Made". Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  12. ^ "John Woo on John Woo: My Hits -- and Misses". Entertainment Weekly. 2009.

External links[edit]