What it is is an old-fashioned B movie, a war flick in which a compromised hero finds redemption. This should come as no surprise, since most major motion pictures these days are just bloated B movies (in the conceptual rather than economic sense), just as most indie films are diminished A movies (ditto).
The heroic antihero is Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage) whose gung-ho-ism leads, in the story’s prologue, to his unit’s bloody slaughter. Enders is left with a possibly symbolic partial deafness, as well as a really gross-looking ear we get to see in several close-ups. Meanwhile, back at the movie’s original intent, two Navajo enlistees, Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach) and Charlie Whitehorse (Roger Willie), are being trained to be code talkers — or windtalkers as the Navajos prefer to call themselves. Once assigned to battle, each windtalker will be under the supervision of a soldier whose job will be to protect the code at all cost; i.e. protect the code talker if possible, but kill him if there’s a possibility of him being captured.
It’s a pretty good hook. Ben comes under Enders’ protection while Charlie is handed over to Ox Anderson (Christian Slater). Ben and Charlie are unaware of the "kill the windtalker" part of the deal and so naturally want to befriend their new protectors, while Enders and Ox try to keep the relationship strictly professional. But you can’t have a war movie — or a war, for that matter — without some serious bonding, so things get pretty messy in the friendship and betrayal area.
There are a lot of clichéd characters and characterizations (with the exception of a sergeant played by Peter Stomare who, as usual, seems to have come from Mars), and a fair amount of lively war porn (John Woo directed) that touches the familiar bases with professional agility. It’s not quite up to the Sam Fuller level, but it’s not down there with Michael Bay either.