1968 Tunnel Rats Reviews
At least he doesn't try to give the story any kind of coherent political message. Its just straight-up gore and violence... and digging.
There was no script for Tunnel Rats with the actors improvising all their lines, sometimes it shows with allot of the topics of the soldiers being very similar about missing their families and how to survive you have to shut up and keep your head down and get on with things. The people who were destined to survive were pretty predictable as one of the characters dreamed of going home and starting a restaurant that sold burgers, fries and a drink within minutes of ordering, i.e. McDonalds so if this guy is going to start McDonalds he has to survive right? The improvisation of the script didn't affect the quality of acting in the slightest and once the men entered the tunnels it didn't matter much anyway as there was little talking down there.
Having the war film set mainly in the tunnels gave this a very original take on Vietnam, it was essentially a horror and to go with this was the correct amount of blood and action. I distinctly remember a man getting hung with the rope to long which resulted in some unpleasant times for him, there was a graphic moment when a fella got a massive slice of bamboo though his neck and then probably the worst of all was when someone had to cut a dead Vietcong up in the tunnel in order to create enough room for him to squeeze round. With this films originality and gore I would certainly recommend seeing this at least once.
There isn't really a firm plot for the film, but this is not too much of a problem. What's basic to lay out is that there are a lot of intricate tunnels under the surface in Vietnam, and they've been dug by the Vietcong as their own kind of maze. We get to know the characters, more or less, though to keep track of names might be fruitless; we know these people more by type or by personality (one very pleasant touch is that one of the real walking cliches in war movies- the guy who prattles on and just can't wait to get home to his mama or wife or whatever- not only doesn't get slaughtered the first chance it should happen, but he becomes a momentary bad-ass in hand-to-hand combat right in the shit of things.
The lack of characterization could be a much bigger flaw to contend with if it were a firm character piece. But aside from some early getting-to-know-you chit-chat (and one other cliche, describing what it was like back home, is a little more intolerable), when the troops start to move out and go into the tunnels, it becomes a non-stop action film. And as part of Boll's ambition to twist the much done Vietnam-War film - a particular kind of war film sub-genre in some respects - most of the runtime is spent underground as the Americans and the Vietcong square off, in the dark, sometimes not knowing who is going to come upon the other. For two points of reference, think of the opening sequence of Casualties of War, only extended to the claustrophobic, horror film extremes of The Descent (albeit Boll is not as strong or inventive a filmmaker as De Palma or Marshall, save for the touches of claustrophobia and the ultra-grisly violence).
Boll doesn't turn away from the more gruesome bits, and we shouldn't either. We're in combat that is massive, all over the place, super-bloody, and it works to ratchet up the tension. We are also given a little of the "other" side, which is just as primitive in their reaction to the US and the US is to them (the "three of them raped a woman, I must kill them all" line is all we get for rationale, whatever). But in an odd way a woman with two kids ends up getting some complexity, if only towards the end during a very intense scene where she's confronted by another US soldier during a bombing raid. Boll could bleed (no pun intended) this over into melodrama, but doesn't too much. If he's guilty of things it's lack of characterization and a very strong story, which should be big cinematic crimes. However, he also has a fantastic sense of pacing action, knows well where to put the camera, and gives some of the soldiers a chance to shine on screen. When it keeps its focus narrow and strong, it's something of a triumph... and then one has to remember it's Uwe Boll. Once again, who knew?