Commentary

November 8, 2013

Fly Over: ‘Saints and Soldiers’, and ‘Windtalkers’

Saints-and-Soldiers-poster

On DVD:

‘Saints and Soldiers’

Many World War II movies have been produced since the actual war. This makes sense, of course, when one realizes how important that time was for the world as well as the individual. Despite some hiccups, 2005’s straight-to-DVD “Saints and Soldiers” does a good job at showing both of these, but primarily the latter.
Loosely based on a true story, a small band of American soldiers have just managed to escape the Malmedy Massacre at the hands of the Germans. The four men, with only one gun between them, have to push their way through a snow-covered forest and avoid detection until help arrives. In the process, they come upon a stranded British intelligence agent, who claims to have important information that he needs to get to the nearest Allied command post as soon as possible. Together they avoid Nazi patrols as they try to protect their ally, as well as overcome their personal issues.
“Saints and Soldiers” has a simple, but admittedly effective plot. It keeps the characters moving well enough, though there were times when I had almost forgotten about the British agent’s secret information. This is due to the fact that the audience is never told what he knows, and so there isn’t much sense of urgency with it. The story of one soldier called Deacon, which seems to be the main focus, is nice, however, as it shows how a soldier struggles with the things combat has led him to do. It did get a little too “Hollywood” near the end, however, with a climax vaguely similar to that of “Saving Private Ryan.” Though this wasn’t bad in itself, and I was actually interested in how things would turn out, I was disappointed with the route it took.
The performances aren’t half bad, considering how the cast is made up of relatively unknown actors. Corbin Allred as Deacon portrays a shell-shocked and haunted soldier without overdoing it (as in, he still interacts normally with some of his comrades and does his job properly). Peter Asle Holden and Larry Bagby are likable as Sgt. Gunderson and Pvt. Kendrick. The character Pvt. Gould occasionally got my nerves with his near-constant pessimism, but actor Alexander Polinsky does a good job regardless. The same could be said about Kirby Heyborne as Flight Sgt. Winly, but that was mainly because of his overabundance of British terms, such as “cheerio,” combined with what I felt was an exaggerated accent; but then, his character was likable enough, and I’ve never actually met someone from the UK. Combined, the characters have good rapport.
I was surprised to find one scene in the film that I realized I had seen before; I thought it was from the TV mini-series “Band of Brothers.” This can be said for much of the film (which came out four years after the show), as it has the same kind of style. To be fair, “Band of Brothers” is a good lead to follow, but it kind of took away this film’s identity and individuality.
The soundtrack also bugged me. It seemed to be a little jumbled and unnecessary at times. The sound effects were a little wonky as well, particularly for the weapons. I did appreciate, however, that this WWII film was made without resorting to an overabundance of gore; it’s used when it’s needed, and that makes it more impactful.
While there’s nothing incredibly special in the design department, “Saints and Soldiers” has a decent story and cast that deliver the film’s message well. It also has some of the creepiest shots I’ve seen outside a horror movie … seriously, I had to double-check that this wasn’t a horror film.
“Saints and Soldiers” is rated PG-13 for war violence.

 
Windtalkers_(2002)

And also on DVD:

‘Windtalkers’

Because of Veterans Day and November being Native American Heritage Month, I decided to watch “Windtalkers.” This movie caught my eye when I read the movie summary, which said it included Navajo Indians who were used to relay messages during World War II.
The story begins with Cpl. Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage) and his unit being attacked by the Imperial Japanese Army, leaving him nearly deaf and his entire squad killed. After the attack, Enders is sent to a hospital to get treatment for his injuries and is told he wouldn’t be able to return to active-duty service. Enders refuses to let the news deter him from getting back into the war. He receives help to pass a hearing test enabling him to return to duty from his pharmacist, Rita (Frances O’Connor).
Thereafter, Enders is told his new assignment is to protect Navajo code talker Pvt. Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), earning him the rank of sergeant. Sgt. Pete “Ox” Anderson (Christian Slater), another Marine in Ender’s platoon, is ordered to look after Navajo code talker Pvt. Charlie Whitehorse (Roger Willie).
Yahzee and Whitehorse are childhood best friends who not only are from the same tribe, but also trained together to send and receive coded messages that direct battleships to attack Japanese embedded positions. Since the code is an essential tool to win the war, Enders and Anderson are told to kill the Navajo code talkers if captured since most end up being tortured to death.
Prior to going to war, Enders is shown eating his meal by himself. Yahzee notices him and walks toward him hoping to start off on a good note. In the process Yahzee accidently knocks over Enders drink and as he offers his own drink as a replacement, spills the drink all over Enders and his meal. Enders is left displeased, takes Yahzee’s meal and leaves.
Early in the movie you learn there is a divide between most of the unit and the Navajo code talkers. While Yahzee and Whitehorse make an effort to bond and connect with others in the unit, Anderson and Enders don’t take kindly to them. Although Enders isn’t as much as a bully as Anderson, he still acts rudely toward Yahzee and isn’t his friend in the beginning.
The men are sent to fight in what is known as the invasion of Saipan. At the start of the fight, Enders shows no mercy for the enemy and goes on a killing rampage shooting in every direction. Being that it’s his first fight, Yahzee, scared and frightened, freezes in the midst of the action while Enders yells at him to kill the enemy. Yahzee later kills for the first time while trying to get a radio from a Japanese soldier. With the radio in hand, Enders gives the coordinates to Yahzee, who relays the messages to other Navajo code talkers. The message is fully processed after about two and a half minutes. Shortly after, the Japanese are attacked.
Though at first there are a lot of racial prejudices against the Navajo code talkers, Enders and Anderson later look past the differences in race and culture and see the Navajo code talkers for who they are and not what they are.
I was impressed by Beach’s performance; it seemed that he really was a Navajo native. My only disappointment was that the movie wasn’t solely based on the Navajo code talkers and how the code was created. There were only a few scenes of the Navajo people learning the code and then the rest of the movie was primarily based off of Enders. I’m also not really into too much violence, and I think they went a little overboard on the killing. During most of the movie someone was being blown up, stabbed, sliced or shot at, which I wouldn’t have minded in smaller doses. I wasn’t really impressed with Cage’s performance since most of the time his character seemed grumpy and negative. I would recommend this movie to those who like action but not to those who want a better storyline.
“Windtalkers” is rated R for pervasive graphic war violence and for language.




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