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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.85%
Just Average: 5.77%
Pretty Crappy: 1.92%
Sucks: 0%

5 reviews, 22 user ratings

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Rescue Dawn
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by EricDSnider

"Never mind the prison camp -- it's the jungle that's dangerous."
4 stars

The maverick German filmmaker Werner Herzog has often told stories of real people battling nature, themselves, and their sanity. His most famous movies, "Aguirre, Wrath of God" and "Fitzcarraldo," were set in jungles and primitive lands. His recent documentary "Grizzly Man" followed a mentally unstable man in his quest to live with bears. "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," his 1997 doc about a Vietnam veteran, recreated the pilot's jungle ordeal from 30 years earlier.

Now, in "Rescue Dawn," Herzog returns to that pilot's story, to the jungle, and to his favorite theme: madness. "Rescue Dawn" is a fictionalized version of "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," with Christian Bale portraying the German-born American Navy pilot Dieter Dengler, who was shot down over Laos in 1966 and spent six months as a prisoner of war. With nods to "The Great Escape" and "Papillon," Herzog tells Dieter's story unromantically and without artifice.

After a beautiful opening score by Klaus Badelt, Herzog greets us with real footage of bombings over Vietnam, then introduces us to Dieter. Stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin in the mid-'60s, before the war began in earnest, Dieter is charismatic and smiling. He and his fellow pilots heckle the survival-training films they're shown, laughing at techniques like using a large leaf to funnel rainwater into your mouth. What silliness!

Dieter is shot down soon thereafter while on a secret reconnoissance mission, then captured by locals and marched through villages like a pet on a leash. There's some abuse and torture, none of it shown too graphically. Finally he is deposited into a small prison camp with a handful of fellow POWs: Duane (Steve Zahn), Gene (Jeremy Davies), and three Thai officers.

Dieter and Duane become closest friends in these difficult circumstances, though the latter has begun to despair after wasting away for so long in the camp already. Gene has lost his mind almost entirely, and is emaciated to a horrifying degree. Their captors aren't generally cruel, and are victims themselves of the war ravaging their homeland, but they're not exactly permissive, either. At night, the six POWs are bound together at the wrists and ankles to prevent escape.

The others have long since given up any hope of escape. Even if they got out of the camp, the jungle itself -- filmed in dark, rich green colors, contrasting against the bleached-out skies -- would surely kill them.

But Dieter rallies them, somewhat, and insists he won't languish in prison. "I'm gonna scram tonight," he says in his oddly syntaxed English. "This hut? It ain't no prison."

Bale's performance is noteworthy in that it provides further evidence of the Welsh actor's chameleon-like abilities. Dieter is a vivid character, and Bale's transformation over the course of the film -- from backslapping compatriot to desperate, half-mad refugee -- is astonishing.

Just as impressive is Steve Zahn, usually a comic actor, who completely loses himself as the despondent Duane. As for Jeremy Davies, playing crazy, crazy Gene, I admire his commitment -- I mean, just LOOK at how skinny he is -- but I didn't always believe he was as loony as he was supposed to be. He seems less like a crazed prisoner and more like an actor pretending to be a crazed prisoner.

Herzog is characteristically matter-of-fact about things, and unsentimental about the death and violence that occur in situations like this. He shoots the film almost like a documentary, with grainy film stock and very little over-dramatization. This is what happened, see. Nothing more, nothing less.

And yet he's still able to subtly bring out the adventurous elements of the story, the way he would if he were working entirely in the realm of fiction. Even if this story weren't true, it would still be riveting. Herzog has found inspiration in the wilds of the jungle once again.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14979&reviewer=247
originally posted: 07/28/07 01:50:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2006 Austin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2007 Portland Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/31/10 matt A strange film. Not Hollywoodized, but oddly self-serving. Well made and acted though 4 stars
6/20/09 mr.mike Ending makes it worthwhile. Don't get why Bale acts crazy the whole movie. 4 stars
1/14/09 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
1/09/09 Anonymous. slow at times, but for the majority, it was good. 4 stars
10/27/08 Michael M An incredible story (to borrow the cliche) you have to see to believe. An emotional ride. 5 stars
1/30/08 Beck Steve Zahn at his finest 4 stars
1/27/08 Egg It kills me to use the word 'typical' when describing another POW film; but I did. 3 stars
11/23/07 action movie fan good start, but too much talk and too redundant to be truly exciting 3 stars
11/13/07 Double M Sadly, Bale disappoints for the 1st (& i hope last) time & was owned by Zahn. worth seeing. 4 stars
10/23/07 William Goss Harrowing tale of POW survival is exhausting in the best possible way. Zahn stands out. 4 stars
9/05/07 crowomon Herzog does great films 5 stars
8/15/07 Frank yep, wonderful by all, well done, splendid, breath giving, heart felt entertainment 5 stars
7/28/07 Elizabeth S Another fine performance from Christian Bale. 4 stars
7/26/07 LaRae Meadows Before I saw this I didn't know there could be an inspiring war movie! 5 stars
7/25/07 Ted Unforgettable! Oscar-level performances and superb cinmatography. 5 stars
7/24/07 Meschelle The last 15 minutes should have been 45 minutes ago. Lost it grounds. 2 stars
7/20/07 Ole Man Bourbon Well done 4 stars
7/15/07 pylgrym Great Art helps us live in better ways while engrossing and entertaining us. 5 stars
7/10/07 The Chode Great Film 5 stars
9/28/06 AdamAnt Herzog does all-American hero film shock. Flick's good enough, but not great. 3 stars
9/11/06 patrick johnson Awesome 5 stars
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  04-Jul-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 20-Nov-2007


  08-Nov-2007 (MA)

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Werner Herzog

Written by
  Werner Herzog

  Christian Bale
  Steve Zahn
  Jeremy Davies
  Zach Grenier
  Marshall Bell
  Evan Jones

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