Film Review: Aguirre, Wrath of God

Aguirre, Wrath of God

Werner Herzog’s 1972 historical journey gets a re-release. Aguirre, Wrath of God is a worthwhile watch for viewers that see it through.

In the 16th century, a few decades after the destruction of the Inca empire, a Spanish expedition leaves the mountains of Peru in search of the wealth of El Dorado. The ruthless Aguirre, who takes control of the expedition, is hellbent on reaching his destination at all costs…

Aguirre, Wrath of God is a slow burner. The first half of the film is quite difficult going, with the narrative taking some time to unfurl. There are some shots in the first half that are held for too long without any real gravitas. There is a lack of momentum that hinders the film.

Nevertheless, the second half of the film is a big improvement. Herzog offers an interesting portrayal of an unquenchable thirst for power with his title character. Aguirre, Wrath of God becomes more engaging in proportion with Aguirre’s growing delusion.

Themes of power and legacy are most potent in Herzog’s film. This is most apparent through Aguirre and his rapacious drive to reach El Dorado. However,  there are nuances in the film that also feed into these themes, such as Don Fernando de Guzman and his burgeoning corruption.

There are some great shots at the beginning and very end of Aguirre, Wrath of God. However, elsewhere production values can be a little haphazard, with blurry lenses and some abrupt editing. The humorous lines in the film are a welcome addition. There is also some great symbolism at the end of the film.

Klaus Kinski delivers a marvellous performance as Aguirre. Kinski is utterly believable in the role, which is highly praiseworthy given the extremes of the character. The supporting cast are also decent, but no one is able to take the limelight of Kinski.

Aguirre, Wrath of God requires viewers to persist with it, but is ultimately rewarding.

Aguirre, Wrath of God is being re-released as part of the BFI’s Werner Herzog season. It will be screened at the BFI Southbank and selected UK cinemas from 7th June 2013.