WINDTALKERS directed by John Woo, written by John Rice and Joe Batteer, produced by Woo, Terence Chang, Tracie Graham and Alison Rosenzweig, with Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Christian Slater and Roger Willie. 134 minutes. An MGM/UA release. Opens Friday (June 14). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 85. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN
Adam Beach has spent the last 10 years waiting to be discovered. The Manitoba-born native actor co-stars with heavyweight Nicolas Cage in director John Woo's Windtalkers (see review, page 85), an overblown second world war drama in which neither Cage nor Woo does his best work. This is Beach's film, and his charm and emotional integrity cut a swath through its ponderous dramatics. "Windtalkers has left me with more confidence in myself than I've ever had," says Beach during a recent stop in Toronto. "I was like a student to Nic Cage, meaning I soaked up the way he works with the camera and the intimacy he creates with the audience just with his eyes.
"When you're acting with him, you see his eyes are like mirrors -- you give him something, he reflects it back."
When I ask consummate actor Cage about his role, he says Beach is the one you can't help but watch.
"Adam is not aware how good he is," says Cage. "He's humble, and that's part of his charm, but his instincts also put him emotionally where he needs to be, what's required for the moment."
Beach first came to Canadian viewers' attention in 1994 as heavy-metal-loving native teen Frankie Fencepost in Bruce McDonald's Dance Me Outside.
He's since played the warrior Squanto in the similarly titled film, laced up a pair of skates in Mystery, Alaska, gone on a road trip in Smoke Signals and wooed Sook-Yin Lee in The Art Of Woo.
In all of these movies, he was the reason to watch.
In Windtalkers, Beach plays Ben Yahzee, a Navajo who enlists in the army as a code talker. Cage stars as Joe Enders, the marine assigned to protect Yahzee, or, if necessary, kill him so he doesn't fall into the hands of the Japanese.
Of course, to play the part, Beach was set the task of learning Navajo.
"It's a difficult language. There is no way I could have learned the whole code book," notes Beach. "So we came up with the solution that Ben wants to be a college professor after the war, which is why he would emphasize English more than Navajo.
"I had to learn the rhythms of Navajo speech. Navajos take their time when they speak, and I incorporated that into my own rhythm."
Director Woo cast Beach after seeing him in Smoke Signals and being impressed with his high energy. Best known for his action set pieces, Woo is also known for trusting his actors and letting them do their thing.
"John has a way of getting the most of his actors by not asking a lot," says Beach. "He said, "Do what you do, that's why I hired you for this job.' He taught me that there are moments in the film that need my extreme attention, but during other parts I just need to react, listen and observe. There's this nice balance of following the leader, Nicolas, and then challenging him at certain moments.
"And with John's style of directing, you're aware he'll capture your best moment, because he has two cameras on you all the time."
With the release of Windtalkers, Beach is packing his bags and leaving his Ottawa digs for L.A.
"I want to live in L.A. to be closer to the business, but I'm trying to find a way to keep a place in Ottawa to see my kids. I'm taking it one day at a time. I'm in the middle of a divorce and in a new relationship, so there's a lot happening, including Windtalkers. I've got to find a balance, and I don't know where it is.
"All I know is that I don't want to put too much pressure on the film. You never know -- it could be a flop. If you expect too much, then you're digging your own grave."email@example.com