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Keegan Connor Tracy
During the Vietnam War the U.S. Army brass decides to create a special unit called the Tunnel Rats. Their main mission is to clean-up the Viet-Cong network of tunnels found in the Cu-Chi district outside the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon.The tunnels have become a major nuisance for the U.S. Forces stationed around and inside Saigon. From these tunnels the Viet-Cong can launch devastating and unexpected attacks on any nearby American base as well as on Saigon itself. After the attacks the Viet-Cong forces disappear into the extensive network of tunnels as fast as they appeared, leaving the pursuing Americans empty-handed. The first Tunnel Rats units arrive in the Cu-Chi district in 1968 and they are special-trained to fight hand-to-hand combats underground. They can only rely on a flashlight, a knife and a pistol to try to flush the enemy out. The tunnels, varying in size and length, are booby-trapped with mines and grenades, punji sticks, tripwires, poisonous snakes and enemy ... Written by
Like the tunnels in the film, the film is an ambush on the audience in the sense Boll takes us all by surprise.
What am I supposed to say about a war film made by Uwe Boll? I know the man by reputation alone and this is my first venture into his film-making domain. It seems he's brought about quite an aura for horrifically bad films, and yet there I was watching Tunnel Rats and genuinely thinking it was a good effort. Am I supposed to sit here and say it's a horrid, pointless mess of fast edits and nonsensical action running on a paper thin script complete with horrid acting? Should that sort of summary be synonymous with a Uwe Boll war film? Well surprise, surprise Tunnel Rats is actually a damn fine effort and it proves people are willing to jump on certain critical bandwagons just as easily as people are willing to jump on positive bandwagons.
The film succeeds in the sense it captures the madness of war as well as delivering scenes of strong, bloody violence that repulses more than it does excite as these various action set-pieces and scenarios play out. Hey, this is more than what the recent Rambo film offered when all we got was a plethora of gore and disembowelment as 'justified' warfare was played out between those poor, poor Christians and those evil, evil Burmese soldiers. The primary content and the 'tunnel rats' of the title refers to soldiers whom engage in activity you feel you'd have to be mad to partake in; an activity that is not about capturing or defending terrain; or searching out an individual alá Apocalypse Now or Saving Private Ryan, but about clearing Vietcong tunnels located beneath the battlefields.
The Tunnel Rats of the title are three jeep loads of soldiers assigned to the Củ Chi tunnel complex, Vietnam, in 1968. Their task is to clear out the tunnels surrounding their base camp traps, enemies and all. The platoon are made up of all sorts; these are not just faceless characters called in to spawn some bloody violence/action as they 'blow some stuff up real good' for the benefit of a passive audience. Some are white, some are black; some are younger than others; some are innocent, naive and soft-bodied whereas some others feel the need to stamp authority within the group. Some even share certain religious beliefs that others do not subscribe to.
There are some points in which you want the characters whom are down in those tunnels out and 'safe' as soon as possible, then there are others during which you want them down there and 'safe' as potential danger approaches on the surface. Other times, soldiers survive the ordeal of the tunnels only to emerge and face new horrors. Boll toys with the audience in this regard, using each respective 'space' as both a safe haven and a potential death trap at various times to really good effect.
The team assigned to deal with this tunnel network share some thoughts and memories from childhood the night before they ship out to begin work. We know the tunnels are a dingy and claustrophobic space on top of a dangerous locale thanks to the opening scene. Further talk of the tunnels being death traps plays out with some characters speculating the dangers through past stories and rumour as well as how the Vietcong can 'smell' you. This makes the scenes later on when a character lights up a cigarette down there even more harrowing. The talk of the tunnels further prolongs anxiety, as the brief but memorable opening scene floats in and around our memory. The tunnels, however, remain off screen and we know what awaits the group, giving us a position of power a position of power that is further emphasised when we witness entire scenes dedicated to the Vietcong, the American's enemy, one occurrence of which sees the camera crane directly below a Tunnel Rat to reveal a makeshift Vietcong war room.
Initially, the first tunnel is a bit of a disaster. It is a dead end and while eliminating two of the enemy, they loose three guys. The sense of failure and frustration at such a cost for so little is clearly evident, very briefly creating a helpless and desperate atmosphere in the film and in our own minds about the situation. Boll captures the horror and the cramped conditions of the tunnels perfectly. Shooting in low light and keeping his camera rock steady as his subject scurries and struggles about erratically, we feel frightened when people venture into the unknown and horrified when altercation with the enemy arises.
Boll even finds room to develop scenarios within the already established conventions by including the character of Vo Mai (Jane Le) as this frightened Vietnamese woman who lives within the tunnels with her two young children. The award winning Jane Le does a great job in portraying the fear and madness of it all. The final thirty minutes or so are pure, gripping, impressive war genre cinema. I didn't notice it beforehand, but there is a certain electronic pulsating sound effect/musical number that plays on a loop during this time, which really captures the horror and the suspense you're witnessing as people scrap for their lives it's fascinating to watch.
Whereas Michael Bay can just fetishise action and gunfire with copious amounts of explosions and slow motion towards the end of Transformers as that becomes even more empty headed; vacuous and nonsensical than it already was, and Stallone can offer nothing bar mere break-neck action as the baddies get their comeuppance toward the conclusion of Rambo IV, Boll shows us that war is, in fact, Hell and war-zones are places you really don't ever want to be. The two respective films have high IMDb ratings close to '7'; Tunnel Rats has something bordering on '4' looks like that Boll-hate bandwagon is in full runaway mode, whereas the Stallone/Bay-love bandwagon is on an equally slick streak. How sad.
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