2 June 2008 | larry-411
War is futile: a simple message brutally demonstrated
"1968 Tunnel Rats" makes a brutal statement about the horrors of war and pulls no punches. Unlike many Hollywood epics which purport to teach their lessons through clever manipulations of the heart, this is no coming-of-age film or family drama couched in a setting of battle. Writer/director Uwe Boll has created a film which is very simply about the futility of war, in this case, set in the jungles of Vietnam.
North Vietnamese fighters dug tunnels, sometimes hundreds of miles long, in which they hid, lived, and carried out surprise missions against the Americans. After an ambush of several members of his squad, Sergeant Vic Hollowborn (Michael Pare) returns to the area with a ragtag group of Army soldiers to avenge their deaths. These young men, some barely out of high school, walk blindly into a world they've never known.
The ensemble cast does what they need to do -- this is not as much of a character-driven piece as other films of this genre, and the improvised dialogue isn't Hollywood war movie fluff. I've never been in battle but I hope the soldiers in the film are realistically depicted. They certainly aren't romanticized a la "Apocalypse Now." Pare's Sergeant Hollowborn is an effective leader, a man who makes his own rules and expects his men to follow them. Other standouts include Nate Parker as Private Jim Lidford, who thinks his urban roots make him tough enough to breeze through this assignment, and Rocky Marquette as Private Terence Verano, the sweet baby-faced kid who exemplifies what made this particular war so intolerable for American mothers -- he clearly doesn't belong here (not that anybody does). Lidford ought to be back on the basketball court on the corner and Verano ought to be back on the beaches of Lake Michigan. Among the North Vietnamese "enemies," watch for Jane Le as young mother Vo Mai. Her heartwrenching performance will stay with you long after the credits roll.
The look is stark and the action unrelenting. The lighting is subdued -- dark and dirty, much like the jungle landscape and tunnels themselves. Opening credits are accompanied by the Zager & Evans' classic "In the Year 2525," which had me deceptively smiling from the start. Jessica de Rooij's score turns ominous after that and was one of the highlights of the movie. But what stood out the most for me was the camera-work of Mathias Neumann. From the copious use of crane shots, as if we are hiding up in the trees ready to pounce, to the hand-held closeups in the tunnel sequences, there is no relief. Visual effects are topnotch and breathtaking. But with few exceptions, "1968 Tunnel Rats" does not rely on sweeping vistas and long shots of masses of soldiers readying for battle. And it doesn't need to. This is about hand-to-hand combat, literally, and the claustrophobic setting is palpable.
Shot on location in South Africa, Boll put all the actors through a boot camp with actual mercenaries prior to filming. This wasn't a "Hollywood" boot camp, referring to the usual type of training actors go through before a war movie. No, they were trained by men who literally had been out killing just a few days beforehand. Filmmakers, cast, and crew all took this project seriously and it shows.
This film may be difficult to watch but it's too compelling to turn away. There isn't a lot to laugh at, although the characters are well-developed enough that we get to know their hopes and fears. It's also definitely a war movie in the true sense of the genre, with heavy political undertones. But It doesn't try to be all things to all people. "1968 Tunnel Rats" is dark and dirty and about as serious as a film can get. If writer/director Uwe Boll is trying send a message, it comes through loud and clear.