Rescue Dawn (2007)
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, François Chau, Zach Grenier
Directed by: Werner Herzog
In recent years, Werner Herzog has become a director of choice amongst hipsters. I’d like to say that I’m immune to that sort of thing, but the truth is when I heard he had a new movie coming out with Christian Bale, I got pretty excited; despite the fact that I’ve only seen one of Herzog’s movies (Grizzly Man… don’t worry, Aguirre, Wrath of God is in my queue). It probably has something to do with the websites I frequent.
But, hey, it’s never too late to get into something good, and from what I’ve seen, Herzog is worth getting into. His latest, Rescue Dawn, might not be an instant classic, but it certainly is the work of an accomplished filmmaker. Herzog first covered this story with his 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly, this time shooting it as a feature.
Rescue Dawn tells the story of Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), a German who immigrated to America in order to fly fighter jets. He eventually flew for the Navy in the Vietnam conflict and was shot down over Laos in 1966. He was taken prisoner and spirited off into the jungle to be held in a make-shift POW camp, facing horrific conditions with other captives.
Bale is terrific as Dieter, exuding an irrepressible spirit in the face of unspeakable horrors, influencing his fellow captives that had been there longer along the way. Dieter isn’t blind to the challenges he faces in his determination to break out of the camp, but remains as positive as possible. The result is a POW movie that is more inspiring than depressing.
If you’re like me, and are interested in this movie because of Herzog and Bale’s involvement, then you won’t be disappointed. Herzog shoots a fantastic looking movie, bringing the jungle alive and keeping the static scenes inside the prison interesting. Bale adds to his growing pile of work that proves him to be one of the best actors working today. Supporting actors Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies both put in strong work that could garner them award consideration later in the year.
However, as impressed as I was by the movie and as much as I enjoyed it, when it was finished I wasn’t blown away. Basically, the story was too slight to be a true classic. It’s a compelling story filmed in a compelling way, but it’s still a small story of one man’s war experience. It’s the sort of the story that is probably best presented in the non-fiction format of documentary, making me very interested to see Little Dieter Needs to Fly (it’s in my queue), but as a feature can only hope to be very good, instead of excellent.