Director: Uwe Boll
I don’t know anything about history. I don’t know anything about Vietnam, or the titular Tunnel Rats – the name for soldiers who would explore and destroy Viet Cong built underground tunnels. I have no idea if the events depicted in Boll’s war flick are close to the truth or not. But this short tale – which mainly depicts one American army team’s day in the jungle, rooting out a particular tunnel – is typically dreary for Boll, but also devastatingly effective in terms of showing what a horrible experience being a tunnel rat may have been.
Because Boll doesn’t always work with the best stable of actors and his character direction hasn’t yet proven aces, the initial third of the movie which introduces us to our primaries lags and may turn viewers away with its stock characters and predictable dialogue (though also usual for Boll, apparently this was improvised, so there’s that). There is a singular moment in this opening that sets the stage for what’s to come (in terms of bleakness), but it gets an oddly heavy treatment from Boll, who, in his more “adult” films such as Seed, and Stoic, tends not to linger on emotional responses, instead staging his commentary on what’s what via events in the film. So points for stretching his wings, but it doesn’t help this stumbling opening portion.
And anyway, it’s really only necessary for vaguely connecting names to faces, as the middle of the film takes place in dark, cramped tunnels where a lot of moments are just flashes of eyes or the sounds of shuffling movement. It’s frustrating, but fitting. As I read more about these tunnels, the slow progress and pitch-black battles seem true, at it absolutely helps to bring to life the absolute terror of the last third of the film.
Which is where things start to go wrong for most of our primaries. Several get trapped in the tunnels, several are killed, horribly, and Boll really doesn’t let up our give us a moment of hope, truly up through the very last shot. There are comments about this being an anti-American flick, showing the soldiers as mostly stupid or cowardly, but I didn’t get that impression. Both sides are shown as being capable of atrocities, and both fight with a similar reckless hope of just trying to kill whoever’s trying to kill them. I did get an overall feeling of dread from everything, which seemed to be more the point – that people built these tunnels, that people participate in these wars, and that people fight and kill each other for no directly discernible reason. That humans totally suck sometimes.
War aficionados might find some appreciation for the grisly presentation (assuming its trueish), but don’t go in expecting a well-rounded war flick with story progress. That’s not Boll’s game. It’s grisly, it’s gory, and it doesn’t end well.