Film Review: Windtalkers, The Bourne Identity, The Sum of All Fears, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Signs

Casualties of War

(Originally published in Inform Magazine, September 2002)

For a while there, the war film was actually enjoying an invigorating revival. An attempt was made, in films like Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, to show war as it really is: a true horror show that Wes Craven couldn’t hope to compete with. Well, here’s Windtalkers to stop all that nonsense.
This film is brought to us by two of the most over-rated talents of recent years. Nicholas Cage was actually quite cool around the time of The Rock and Con Air, although those were films of the strictly dumb variety. In everything else, Cage has shown a willingness to ham it up like a pig on an ITV1 reality show. John Woo was only ever taken seriously by the dafter film critics, so proud to have ‘discovered’ a director who could do violence really well but was rubbish at just about everything else.
Windtalkers is their second collaboration after the insanely stupid Face/Off, and this is a film that really wants to mean well. Ostensibly it’s about the important part Navajo Indians played in World War II, but in the hands of the two least subtle people currently working in films, it’s nothing more than rip-snorting and offensive gung ho action, straight out of a John Wayne movie.
Cage is a battle-scarred soldier with a perforated eardrum. Yet this disability doesn’t stop him slaughtering hundreds (no exaggeration) of Japs whilst he’s supposed to be ‘protecting’ a Navajo radio operator. In the opening sequence, he murders loads of them while his doomed patrol falls around him. You can tell this is Hollywood nonsense because all the Japanese soldiers die the moment they’re shot or blown up, whilst all the ’mericuhns take ages.
But soon, Cage is back at the front. He’s supposed to be going through all sorts of agony and conflict, yet Woo can barely scrape melodrama out of the situation. In a supposedly brutal battle sequence, we’re treated to one side charging forward of their line. So what does the other side do? They charge as well! Ah, World War One would have been over so much quicker if only they’d done that.
And things get stupider. When they’re in the trenches, everyone keeps their heads over the parapets to see what’s going on. It looks great on film, as the bullets fly past, but it’s abject nonsense of course. The film is summed up by a scene where Cage and co. have to escape being shelled by their own side. As they work out how to do this, the guns helpfully stop so we can hear them talking.
Cage dies at the end, helping his Navajo pal (remember him?). But by then you can’t wait to be rid of him. After this and his equally awful performance in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, let’s hope we won’t see him again too soon.
In The Bourne Identity, Matt Damon has forgotten who he is. You’re Matt Damon, and you used to be quite cool when you were writing your own screenplays instead of starring in plodding thrillers based on cheesy airport doorsteps. Ben Affleck doesn’t lose his memory in The Sum of All Fears but the same applies.
Eddie Murphy used to be pretty cool as well, but it’s so long ago now that even I can’t remember. It was probably before he decided to be a film star (all American comedians see being a film star as the ultimate, no matter the films they star in), so it remains a mystery why he continues to make them and why people pay him to star in abject rubbish like The Adventures of Pluto Nash. A sci-fi ‘comedy’, it’s a wonder anyone thinks “uranus” is funny any more.
M. Night Shyamalan seals his reputation as the New Spielberg™ with Signs, which concerns corn circles. The fact that he’s managed to turn the work of a couple of nothing-better-to-do British hoaxers into a genuinely suspenseful and unsettling film – and get a decent performance out of Mel Gibson – makes this all the more remarkable. It’s even got some bright kids stealing the movie, although the ending’s a bit weak. ‘Night’, as I like to call him, has produced consistently good films since The Sixth Sense. It’ll be typical if he gets Nicholas Cage, Matt Damon or Eddie Murphy to star in his next.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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