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Windtalkers movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Woo
Produced by
Written by
  • Joe Batteer
  • John Rice
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Jeffrey L. Kimball
Edited by
Distributed by MGM Distribution Co.
Release date
  • June 14, 2002 (2002-06-14)
Running time
134 minutes[1]
  • United States
  • Hong Kong
Language English
Budget $115 million[2]
Box office $77.6 million[2]

Windtalkers is a 2002 American war film directed and produced by John Woo, and starring Nicolas Cage and Adam Beach. The film was released in the United States on June 14, 2002.


During World War II, USMC Cpl Joseph F. "Joe" Enders rallies himself to return to active duty with the aid of his pharmacist, Rita. He previously survived a gruesome battle on the Solomon Islands against the Imperial Japanese Army that killed his entire squad and left him with a scar on his neck and 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. Sgt. Pete "Ox" Henderson also receives a parallel assignment protecting Navajo code talker Pvt. Charlie Whitehorse, the Navajo code, as it was known, was a code based on two parts: 1) the Navajo language and 2) a code embedded in the language, meaning that even native speakers would be confused by it, referring to a tank as a turtle, for example. The code was close to unbreakable but also so difficult only a few people could learn it.

Yahzee and Whitehorse, lifelong friends from the same Navajo tribe, are trained to send and receive coded messages that direct artillery fire. Enders and Henderson are shown evidence that captured Navajos are tortured to death to get the code and instructed that it cannot fall into enemy hands, this implies that they are to kill their code talkers if capture is imminent. As Enders and Henderson meet Yahzee 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, Whitehorse with his flute and Henderson with his harmonica, and as their practicing becomes more and more melodic, Henderson intones that their music is turning into something. They become not just Marines, but friends. Enders and Yahzee also discover that they have much in common, notably their Catholic upbringings.

The invasion of Saipan is Yahzee's and Whitehorse's first combat experience, after the beachhead is secured in vicious fighting, the Marines come under friendly fire from U.S. artillery (during which Pvt. Nellie is killed saving a badly wounded marine). Yahzee's radio is destroyed and the convoy is unable to call off the bombardment. Yahzee suggests that he disguise himself as an Imperial Japanese soldier and slip behind enemy lines to commandeer a radio. Enders goes with him as a prisoner and eliminates several Japanese soldiers. Yahzee 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 Yahzee's role almost ignored until Enders points him out but still credits Enders. Enders sees Cpl. Pappas praying by Nellie's hastily dug grave and, knowing he was alive because of Nellie's actions, gives the medal to Pappas with instructions to send it to Nellie's wife. Later, after a night of sake drinking, Yahzee performs Navajo rituals over the unconscious Enders to protect him with the spirits.

That night the Marines camp in a village, Tanapag, thought to be secured. While Yahzee is temporarily assigned back to the command post to translate a code, Enders becomes increasingly torn because, despite his orders, he cannot imagine killing Yahzee, as a result, he demands to be relieved from his unit but this request is denied. The next morning, Japanese soldiers ambush the village, and in the fierce fighting, Pvt. Harrigan (the squad's flamethrower man) is shot in the flame tanks and burns, forcing Enders to kill him. Later in the battle, Whitehorse saves the life of Chick, then he and Henderson take cover and hold off numerous Japanese. Running low on ammunition, Henderson realizes Whitehorse is in danger of being captured, but Henderson cannot bring himself to kill the man he has grown close to. Turning to meet the enemy, Henderson is beheaded by a Samurai sword and Whitehorse is about to be captured by the Japanese. Enders sees Whitehorse being beaten and dragged away by the Japanese and tries to shoot the captors with his pistol, but it has run out of ammunition. Enders pulls out a grenade but hesitates as he makes eye contact with Whitehorse. Whitehorse, realizing the Japanese will torture him for the code, vehemently nods to Enders, who grimly primes the grenade and throws it at Whitehorse's feet, the ensuing explosion kills both Whitehorse and the Japanese 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, exhausted, 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 in cold blood. 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 again ambushed, this time near a deadly minefield on Mt. Tapochau. After fighting out of the kill zone they are ambushed again and Gy/Sgt Hjelmsted is wounded in the chest and later dies of his wounds. Enders, Yahzee, Chick and Pappas (the last of the Marines) take cover on an old battle-torn ridge, and amidst the fierce battle, the Marines see Japanese artillery fire from the top of the ridge attacking U.S. Marines below their position. Still enraged over the death of Whitehorse, Yahzee charges the Japanese line fearlessly, and in so doing, fumbles the radio needed to call in the coordinates for an effective 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, grimly determined that no one else will die that day, manages to carry Yahzee to safety after taking a shot in the chest. Friendly planes arrive and the Japanese position is successfully destroyed. Yahzee rejoices in their success but finds Enders mortally wounded, with his last breaths, Enders reverts to the religious upbringing he earlier claimed he had abandoned, and recites a Hail Mary.

Returning to the U.S., Yahzee, his wife, and his young 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 the man who saved his life. He tells his son that Enders was a fierce warrior and Marine and, that if his son ever tells a story about Enders, to simply say that he was Yahzee's friend, he then cleans Enders' dog tags in holy water, reaffirming his own religious doctrine. He lifts them to the sky while chanting in ritual, sending Enders' spirit reverting to the Earth as the vast palisades surround and watch over them.

An epilogue explains that the Navajo code was crucial to America's success against Japan across the Pacific theater and that, during the war, the 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 134 minutes.

For the F6F Hellcat fighters that appear in the beach-landing scenes on Saipan, the producers used computer-generated versions.[3]


Box office[edit]

The film was a box office bomb, grossing only just under $41 million at the US box-office and a combined $77.6 million worldwide.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Windtalkers received negative reviews from critics; it currently holds a 32% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes, based on 167 reviews.[4] Roger Ebert gave the film two stars, remarking that "the filmmakers have buried it beneath battlefield cliches, while centering the story on a white character played by Nicolas Cage".[5]

The film was criticized for featuring the Navajo characters only in supporting roles; they were not the primary focus of the film.[6] 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.[7]


Year Award Winner/Nominee 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. ^ "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. ^ [1] Archived September 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ "Windtalkers". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 14, 2002). "Windtalkers". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  6. ^ Thom, Fred. "Windtalkers". Plume Noire. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  7. ^

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