Monday, June 9, 2014

Aguirre, the Wrath of God review

There are few things I appreciate more in a movie than ambition.
Big, grand landscapes and bigger and grander ideas. Movies like Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey that strive to be something more and succeed in doing so. I think that's why I liked Werner Herzog's 1972 film, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, so much. The movie tells about a failed Spanish expedition to El Dorado. The trip is initially led by Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repulles). After things start to break down, he sends Don Pedro de Ursa (Ruy Guerra) and Lope de Aguirre (the titular character, played awesomely by Klaus Kinski) on a separate party to search out El Dorado. Things go bad quickly and Aguirre mutinies, overthrowing Pedro de Ursa. Lope de Aguirre then begins his descent into insanity, bringing his entire crew with him. So, before I saw this film, I knew director Werner Herzog only by his role in the Tom Cruise actioner Jack Reacher and by the few documentaries he's made. I had no idea what to expect. I had heard very good things about this movie, but I didn't really know what I was getting into. That was probably a good thing. Aguirre, the Wrath of God is beautiful, horrifying, and deliberately strange. After I watched it, I had no idea what to make of it. Honestly, I didn't even decide if I liked it until a few days after seeing the film. I think that's good. Most great movies take time before they make their presence and meaning clear to you. They seep into your bones and invade your consciousness. I love big Hollywood blockbusters as much as the next guy. Yet, most of them are missing the towering cerebral quality that movies like this have. What's really interesting is how sparsely written this film is. Apparently, Herzog didn't figure out the dialogue for some scenes until moments before shooting. I've never said this for any movie before, but the dialogue doesn't matter for Aguirre. Werner Herzog's hypnotic images of the Amazon are enough on their own. Paired with the ambition and ideals of it's main character, this film makes for an intimidating watch. Watching this movie gave me actual chills down my spine. I've never seen any movies Herzog has directed before. But by seeing just this I can tell he is a fantastic director. The score, by German group Popul Vuh, plays a big part here. It's frightening and cold, yet hopeful and heavenly at the same time. It fits the movie so, so well. The opening scene shows looming mountains, shrouded by thick white clouds. The score sings like a choir of angels from hell. Herzog's camera cuts to below the clouds where the army of Spaniards make their way down the dangerous mountain pass. Without the music alone it's haunting. With the score, it stays in your memory long after the credits have rolled. I can't finish this review without pointing out Klaus Kinski's awesome performance. Here he's playing an insane man, and I've never seen anyone do it quite like this. His eyes blankly look into the camera and his face twitches. Every aspect of this film is hauntingly beautiful in its own way. Kinski's performance is no exception. Aguirre, the Wrath of God seems like it's too ambitious and messy to work. Under less skilled hands, the film would collapse under its own weight. With Herzog, Kinski, and Popul Vuh; the movie becomes a masterpiece of epic proportions. I recommend it for sure, but don't be too quick to form an opinion on the film. Let it soak for a while. Then, you may understand it's insane genius. Happy Viewing. You can like me on Facebook at and follow me on Twitter @WhitsMovies.

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