“ Genre: Action & Adventure / Theatrical Release: 2006 / Suitable for 12 years and over / Director: Werner Herzog / Actors: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Zach Grenier, Jeremy Davies, Marshall Bell ... / DVD released 2008-04-07 at Pathe Distribution / Features of the DVD: PAL „
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I saw this film listed on the Sky Movies the other day and thought I would like to see it as it had Christian Bale in it and I had only really seen him in Batman and wanted to see how he acted in another kind of film. I had read on here inreviews of the Dark Knight about how bad people thought he acted in that but actually I enjoyed the two Batman films with him in.
I am so glad I recorded this film, it was really good. The film was a true story about a US fighter pilot called Dieter Dengler who was on a secret mission to fly over Laos during the Vetnam war when his plane was shot down and he crashed in the jungle. He was captured by some soldiers and kept in a prison with some other men who had been in there for years but he decided he was not going to stay and rot in the prison so started to make plans on how to escape and find his way home.
I thought Christian Bale was really good in this part, he was a completely different character to how he played the Batman films. I liked the way he made the character care about the men he was in prison with, it seemed genuine and you could believe in it all. I loved the way he became good friends with Duane and how he wanted to help him escape with him.
Duane was played by Steve Zahn andhe also played his character well. You could really feel for him the way he had been locked up for all those years and the things he had gone through.
Another good character was Gene played by Jeremy Davies. I couldnt believe how thin he was in the film, you could really believe that he had been in prison for years.
The music in the film was really nice and not the kind of music you usually associate with war films. It was orchestral and poignant and really set the scene especially nearer the end of the film.
The film was directed by Werner Herzog and it is rated a 12 in the UK. The film lasts for 126 minutes.
Rescue Dawn, a film starring Christian Bale as Dieter Dengler, a US pilot on his first mission for the army during the Vietnam war, a film by acclaimed director Werner Herzog it's a real life story about Dengler being shot down in his very first mission and being captured into a vietnam war camp with a group of 5/6 other individuals captured over a period of 2/3 years.
The film portrays the goings on in the jungle of Vietnam after his plane is shot down, he tries to survive for hours, days without being found but is ultimatly captured, with little food, little water, no cleaning facilities and overzealous guards Dengler vows to escape as soon as possible and not sit around with the others waiting to be rescued 2 years down the line, which one of the captures is sure of, he befriends a certain member of the group to look after and help out who is clearly losing it a little, he vows to escape on the night of July 4th (why they'd pick an obvious night to escape...).
The film is obviously a true story which makes the whole thing alot more poignant and each and every emotion more hard hitting, the film is split into 4 clear stages from the beginning through to the end from the start of the mission to the attempt at escape. I did think that at some points of the film it dragged a little, this was more in the 2nd quarter of the film for me, maybe because it was late at night but about 30 minutes in I started losing concentration, we went back to it the next day however and the final hour was very good indeed, it reminded me a little of the film To End All Wars with Robert Carlisle and Kiefer Sutherland (Brilliant film by the way...), although I don't think this was quite as good.
The acting, well it is Christian Bale so thats probably all that needs to be said, a superb actor and doesn't let down in this, everyone knows what they're getting with Christian Bale now...I just wish he never joined the whole Batman phase. Throughout the film we can see and feel the hurt and physical and mental torture that Dengler must have been going through, especially as numerous US airforce go past without even blinking an eyelid at Dengler and his compatriots below, the feeling of wanting to give us must have been great, this comes across very well with Bales acting. There's also support from Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies who are both superb as fellow captures, one whom is convinced a rescue is around the corner and the other whom is losing his mind and wants to get out of the camp and decides to follow Dengler's escape plan.
The soundtrack, well there wasn't really much of one, this film used the emotional aspect and the tension to portray the emotions of the film and didn't let music get in the way of that, as for the special features they were severley lacking on the dvd we purchases, however it did have a group of trailers (I love trailers) of numerous films which we watched prior to the film.
Overall, it being a true story obviously helped us get into the film a little more, it did slightly drag before Bale actually arrived at the Vietnam war camp and I'm not sure if that was just me, overall however the film was actually very good, not a classic and not worth top marks but am glad I purchased it and will no doubt watch it back at some point. There can be the odd funny moment, you feel emotionally attatched to the characters being a true story and just wonder what they must have all gone through.
Dieter: Empty what is full. Fill what is empty. Scratch what itches.
Christian Bale has had a very good year. His Batman is set to break all box-office records (minus Mamma Mia, of course) and although I haven't seen it, if it's anything like Batman Begins then I will love it! Isn't it great to have a male superhero that would rather spend time with beautiful women than dressing like someone that would rather hang out in bathhouses picking up the soap. A real macho superhero!
Wales born Bale is known for putting a lot of effort into his characters and loves the detail, a bit of a method actor these days, Rescue Dawn that kind of movie, here munching on real maggots and biting off snakes heads to 'capture the essence' of the part. In an intriguing movie called the Machinist he lost an alarming amount of weight to play the lead in a disproportionately low status movie and budget for that effort and commitment shown, and although he doesn't quite lose as much weight here in the true story of an American Air force pilot shot down over Laos in the 1960s, he is still pretty determined to be in the 'method', losing 55 pounds this time. But, even though he does a good physical performance for the somewhat eccentric director Werner Herzog, here (who lost 35 pounds in support of his actors for the grueling location shoot) the performance does feel a bit giddy and off the mark as if Bales heart wasn't in it, perhaps getting the news on set that Batman: The Dark Knight, would be green lighted, so it doesn't matter if this tanks or not, which, like all Herzog's art-house movies, did, this making just $5.5 million dollars on its only week in the multiplexes.
Steve Zahn lost 40 pounds for his role.
Jeremy Davies lost 33 pounds for his role.
Christian Bale lost 55 pounds for his role.
As I said 'Rescue Dawn' is based on a true story and is the follow up to Herzog's short on the early life of Dieter Dengler called ' Little Dieter Needs to Fly', the journey from boy to man on how the German schoolboys parents house was bombed in WW2 by American bombers, dumping their payload on a small Black Forrest German border village after missing their proper target, Dengler surviving his personal blitzkrieg, his motivation from then on in to a be a pilot , ironically ending up in America and then the USAF as a nationalized citizen, only to be shot down having to bomb kids just like him that day in innocent villages in Laos near Vietnam. Although the story it's not 100% accurate, Bale met the real Dengler who died recently and has picked up on his never say die attitude and German-American accent, that and interesting ambiguity to explore when you think of the recent great wars.
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Dieter: "When I was uhh... five or something', I was looking out the window, with my brother... and we see this fighter plane was coming right at us. I was not scared. I was mesmerized. Because for me, this pilot was this all-mighty being from the clouds. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be him. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be a pilot".
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Christian Bale ... Dieter
Steve Zahn ... Duane
Jeremy Davies ... Gene
Toby Huss ... Spook
GQ ... Farkas
Saichia Wongwiroj ... Pathet Lao Guard
François Chau ... Province Governor
Dieter Dengler has fulfilled his life long ambition to be a pilot and has been posted to a US aircraft carrier off the coast of South Eat Asia. He never intended to fight a war but it's the only way he can fly right now. His first mission is top secret, bombing the supply lines in Laos that lead to the communist insurgency in Vietnam, what would soon become a full blown conflict with America, of course. But Dieter won't see that war, shot down on his first mission, only kept alive because he paid attention to survival skills classes. No one can know they are running these missions and so a military rescue is his only escape.
Once captured by the Vietcong behind enemy lines he's put in a local prisoner of war camp after he refuses to sign official letters denouncing his beloved US. In his desolate jungle prison he hooks up with other forgotten US military personnel and a sprinkling of South Vietnamese allies, some seven in total, spirits obviously low and his new inmates very skinny, the secret war raging longer than he had realized, some two years now. They had given up on escape a long time ago; hoping the war would be over soon and they would somehow get out that way. But Dieter hits the ground running on that score and quickly lifts the spirits by using his affable manner and ingenuity around the compound to get some relief from the torturous conditions, able to covertly unlock their cuffs at night so they can sleep easier, endearing himself to his new friends and even some of the peasant guards, the first of many ruses to keep them going through the grim torture and abuse to come.
As weeks turn into months Dieter has no choice but to hatch some sort of high risk escape plan, even though there's resistance from his fellow American prisoners. As the plan matures like a fine wine, Americans Duane (Steve Zhan) and Gene (Jeremy Davies) threaten to tell on Dieter if the plan ever comes to fruition. But when the guards, who are local villagers, are left to fend for themselves at the camp when supplies dry up, the situation becomes increasingly desperate and so the plan must be put into action, which could mean disaster for all...
Herzog clearly knew Dieter well and wanted this film to be his tribute to the only US pilot to survive and be rescued from a Vietcong prison camp, by that fact alone an interesting tale to tell. The question now is does Bale get that point with his turn as Dengler? I don't think he does, this performance flawed if you ask me. I'm just not convinced this guy would be this resilient in the face of the obvious nightmare he suffered out there and Bales performance comes across as slightly vacant of that fact, perhaps even some propaganda here, no stranger to American war movies. In fact his co-stars turns are much more realistic and committed, both Davies and Zahn looking seriously emaciated and up for the role. Its almost as if Bale thinks he can get away with this by just being very thin. Because of that slight imbalance it feels like the star and cast are in different movies. But the fact the actors didn't have any trailers or home comforts on location I think we can let Bale of for that subtle aloofness this time.
With beautiful locations and a likewise classical soundtrack Rescue Dawn does have it s qualities but it's not the movie you have been told about and hoping for. Maybe his story doesn't work because it hasn't been told yet and perhaps America doesn't want it to be told on what was yet another casualty of another illegal US war. There have been a lot of those. John McCain, of course, the US Presidential candidate was lorded as a hero for being shot down and taken prisoner in Vietnam when the war was somehow legit and has run his whole political career off the back of it. But Herzog wanted to tell his version of the story and here it is, although trying to relate to it isn't easy. It's a film that will appeal to those who need a start a middle and an end to a movie but to those who wanted to learn about an interesting character it sadly fell short, perhaps the German background of Dengler his and the movies unfortunate fatal flaw.
-Imdb.com Werner Herzog trivia-
This was the director who got shot whilst being interviewed by the BBC film critic Mark Kermode. The pair were walking along one of those twisty Hollywood Hills roads when a bullet hit Herzog in the gut, delivering a flesh wound. It's believed neither he nor the outspoken BBC film critic was the target and the bullet was a stray from one of the nearby ghettos, Herzog completing the interview with blood leaking from his side. It was deep enough to result in hospital treatment.
= = = = = Special Features = = = = =
-Audio commentary by Werner Herzog-
It's not a bad commentary and probably a must for all film fans as the colorful director goes off on a tangent on the layered track. The guy is intense and only makes films he wants to make and usually ends up paying for them. I gave up after 50 minutes as it felt like he was an old man talking to himself after a while, which he is and probably was.
-The Making of Rescue dawn-
Apparently it was a rough shoot and the actors and crew trekked out into the jungle (somewhere in Thailand) to feel the mood of the piece. Herzog wanted to prove to his actors that if he was going to put them through it to make good film then he would get down and dirty too, diving into the river to use the water camera for a hairy rapid shot an example of here.
Just the one, hence the greedy 126 minute run time...
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Imdb.com scores it 7.6 out of 10.0 (27.070 votes)
RuN-TiMe 126 minutes
3 for £8 weekly deal at Blockbusters or £3.50 per night
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It is often very hard to present a true story as a convincing big screen movie. It makes it even harder when the tale is of war and there is a lack of survivors to give a true rendition of what actually happened. Rescue Dawn is the story of Dieter Dengler, the US fighter pilot shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War. The film is based on Dengler's 1997 documentary, entitled 'Little Dieter Needs To Fly', and tells the tale of Dieter's experience as a captured US soldier in Laos. Criticisms have been levelled at the documentary and the film from people Dieter met whilst in Laos and relatives of others, claiming that facts had been falsified to make the story more interesting. So, it is with an open mind and a fair chunk taken out due to artistic licence that I watched this very good film.
The film is told chronologically, although it is very easy to lose track of time as the story unfolds. We have a brief introduction to Dieter's flying mission as he and the rest of his crew prepare for a dangerous covert operation. We are left a little in the blue as to the exact date and the political situation, which is a little confusing if you are not completely up to date on the Vietnam conflict, as I am not. One thing is made clear, and that is Dieter's obsession with flying, and it explains that all he wanted to do was fly from an early age.
Following being shot down, we see a frantic piece of the film where Dieter is fleeing from the Laotians for fear of being captured, tortured and killed. The emotion comes through here from Christian Bale as Dieter, and the actor's intense and laudable role continues in this vein through much of the film. He portrays Dieter as a very positive character throughout, and upon his capture, he is taken to a very small prison camp with a couple of huts and a small handful of guards, and this is where he meets his fellow inmates with whom he bonds very quickly.
This takes us up to the half-hour mark in the film, and by now we have been treated to some stunning scenery by director Werner Herzog. Filming was done mainly in Thailand, and it is breathtaking at the same time as bleak and causing a certain amount of anxiety. The views are beautiful, but the worries of a lack of civilisation and rain for miles around further deepens the worry we see in the prisoners in the camp. There are a small handful of them of mixed race, with two of them being American. These two are the main focus of the film in terms of forging a relationship with Dieter, the German-born pilot who came to America at a young age.
Steve Zahn is normally known for more comedic roles, and when I saw his name as one of the actors for this film, I did imagine there would be some light-hearted moments, but his performance as Duane Martin is very serious and also very riveting. The actor impresses me in most roles he has been in, and this one merely served to heighten the respect I have for him as an actor. Jeremy Davies plays Gene DeBruin, and is portrayed as hyperactive and untrustworthy, which is where a lot of complaints came from his family and friends, believing the portrayal to be unfair and untrue.
Conditions in the camp were very harsh. There wasn't much torture involved, but we see a distinct lack of food and water, with all involved being stick thin to the point where you can see their bones. Particularly thin is Jeremy Davies as DeBruin. Davies has more recently been seen in Lost, where he plays a hyperactive scientist (hyper seems to be a role he is good at!) and is a lot bulkier, although still thin. Most of the actors made a concerted effort to conform with the conditions in the camp and lost weight dramatically, particularly Bale, who, as the only person new to the camp, was fully nourished upon his arrival there, and we see the changes gradually over the course of the film.
Christian Bale regularly does this for his roles. His weight fluctuation shows his dedication for the roles he plays, having to lose weight for The Machinist, then gain lots of muscle and bulk for Batman Begins before dropping dramatically for this again and then bulking up once more for The Dark Knight. What this steady drop during the film does is highlight the harsh conditions and give a very real perspective to the situation they were all in. As the days pass by, we see Dieter hatch a plan to escape, and then they all club in to attempt, over the course of weeks, to put it into place.
This is based on a true story, but even so I will not spoil any surprises for you as to what happens. I will leave that for you to find out, as I do not like reading polt spoilers myself. One thing that is true is how riveting the film is. I understand that in actual fact, it was not Dieter who concocted the plan, but the others who were there already, according to families and friends of others involved. Whether this is true or not, I have no idea, but it does not change the fact that Herzog shows all of this in a very clever way, by using the surroundings and harsh silences to drag the viewer in and mesmerise them. There are scenes of a harrowing nature, brutal at times, so at points this is not for the squeamish, but at over 2 hours long, it does not drag in the slightest, and is highly watchable.
Recently, I watched The New World, showing the British landing on American soil centuries ago, and the harsh treatment shown between native American Indians and the settlers, but I found Mallick's portrayal of the conditions to be boring. What Herzog does differently here, I am not sure, perhaps it is in the clever filming and the excellent acting of the characters, but there are many similarities between the two films, and I couldn't wait for The New World to finish, whereas I was riveted all the way through Rescue Dawn. Bale is in both films, this one is by far the better performance from him.
Whether true to real life or not, Rescue Dawn is a brilliant film, and one I recommend watching. It is not a traditional war film in terms of gung ho camaradery and daredevil action sequences as Hollywood often subjects us to, but more a very harsh look at the worst side of war - the death, torture and imprisonment side of it. All involved do a great job, and I was thoroughly impressed and moved by the whole experience.
Rescue Dawn is available from amazon.co.uk for £4.98. It is well worth this money, and I highly recommend it.
Many people in the modern world are cynical about war. WW2 was something that most people could agree on - the likes of Hitler were not nice people. However, is war ever this clean cut? Saddam was also an evil man, but did America invade Iraq to get rid of this tin pot dictator or for its rich oil fields? War is a confusing thing with both sides being shades of grey rather than black or white. America should have perhaps thought more deeply before going into Iraq; had they not learnt from Vietnam? Here was a war about Communism, but were the Vietcong really that evil and why did the Americans insist on infiltrating neighbouring countries illegally? 'Rescue Dawn' is a film about a man who crash lands during one of America's rogue operations - its gives a glimpse of real war.
Ever since growing up in war torn Germany Dieter Dengler has wanted to be nothing more than a fighter pilot. Therefore, when he is offered the chance to join the US air force he is shipped off to Vietnam only really wanting to fly. He gets his chance early on when he and his fellow pilots are sent on a covert operation, unfortunately for Dieter he is shot down. Eventually he is caught by the Vietcong and placed in a prison camp. During his time in the prison camp he meets others who have been there for over 2 years. Rather than suffer through starvation and madness Dieter decides to plan an escape. With the aid of his new friends Dieter helps bring new hope to a desperate situation. Highlighting the suffering of both the Vietnamese and prisoners of war `Rescue Dawn' proves a powerful watch.
There are many things that could have gone wrong with 'Rescue Dawn' and it is due to the skill of Director Werner Herzog and the actors that this is avoided. Herzog is an eccentric director with an eclectic back catalogue that would not necessarily make him a good choice for this drama. However, having already made a documentary about this true life story it is clear that he wanted to bring it to a wider audience. What you get is a documentary style sensibility with touches of theatre in a film setting. Herzog makes the Vietnam jungle as much of a character in the film by producing some wonderful shots making it clear that the film was shot on location. This makes the film very slow going in places, but also very beautiful.
The pacing of the film will certainly be a disincentive for people used to the more fast paced modern films. However, without the sedate nature we would never get to care about the characters or really understand the situation they are in. This is best shown during the middle part of the film set in prison. The film goes from being open to enclosed. Now you are in a character piece and the limited space makes it almost feel play-like.
Luckily then that Herzog casting is so good. In my opinion you can rarely go wrong in hiring Christian Bale as your lead. Since his rebirth in 'American Psycho' Bale has proved to a flexible and excellent actor. His own eccentricities play brilliantly into the character of Dieter and he is able to portray someone that you really want to see succeed. More troublesome is some of the names on the co-star list, in particular Steve Zahn as Duane. Zahn is best known, if he is known at all, as a comedian in lesser comedy films (the kind I like), therefore it is a surprise to see how well be portrays a POW here. Zahn, alongside Jeremy Davies as Gene, depicts the misery and slow insanity that life in a prison camp must be like. They are able to physically show the human form wasting away - excellent.
With the great direction and wonderful acting there are a couple of issues apart from the pacing that stunts the film slightly. Firstly the budget is not quite high enough to meet Herzog's vision with some dodgy special effects being used during the fighting scenes. Also the final part of the film has been criticised for being to gung ho and patriotic. I would refute this as is anyone if going to be gung-ho and patriotic I assume that the US military would be!
As I mentioned earlier with its limited budget, eccentric director, dark story and slower pace there is enough in 'Rescue Dawn' that would suggest that I would not like it. However, this was far from the case as it was an interesting and thought inducing film. The direction is great, especially out in the jungle, and with actors like Bale willing to do anything for the role (like eat raw snake and worms!) it felt authentic. It is certainly not a watch for schlock movie goers, more for film lovers. If you are looking for a more powerful and interesting film then this will do nicely.
Director: Werner Herzog
Starring: Christian Bale
Price: Amazon uk £12.98
There is a Director's Commentary as well as a few interesting documentaries looking at the real life events that inspired the film. For people wanting to see how much slower the film could have been there are also 7 deleted scenes!
The BluRay transfer is also excellent really highlighting the vibrancy and colour of the jungle setting. As close to HD documentary quality that you will get in a feature film.
4 out of 5
(Also appears at ShaunMunro.co.uk)
Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Christian Bale, Zach Grenier, Steve Zahn,
Release Date: July 4th, 2007 (US), November 23rd, 2007 (UK)
Certificate: PG-13 (US), 12A (UK)
The opening scene of "Rescue Dawn" reminds us that Werner Herzog is an artisan of the aesthetic - his slow-motion shot of a plane soaring over a vast, plush landscape as explosions canvas the ground is poetic in very much the same way as the credit overlay in Apocalypse Now was. For all of Rescue Dawn's blemishes, Herzog's keen eagle eye for visuals cannot be faulted.
Revisiting the central motif of his film Grizzly Man, Herzog's newest picture is very much concerned with nature, and the raw elements it is comprised of. Whilst Rescue Dawn's surface antagonists are humans, the protagonist's ultimate test becomes one against the elements, one of not only staying alive and sustaining oneself, but remaining sane meanwhile.
The film involves a young U.S. Navy pilot named Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), who is to partake in his first mission, a top-secret engagement during the Vietnam War. During this mission, Dengler is shot down over Laos, and is soon enough captured and imprisoned, joining a number of other soldiers already held there.
Herzog's film has a shaky start, beginning very procedurally and meandering into a melting pot of tiresome, overlong scenes of little importance, with very occasional excitement and intrigue. Even as Dengler crashes, it is awkwardly shot and lends itself to the production values of a TV serial.
The first thirty minutes or so of Rescue Dawn employ little use of dialogue, which in of itself isn't terrible, but the "actions speak louder than words" approach is only successful when there is an abundance of powerful or thoughtful imagery, of which this film is unfortunately devoid. It cannot be denied that Herzog captures impressive and visually stunning shots, but even from Herzog, they are not substantial enough to redeem the film from its mundane core. Herzog chooses in these moments to explore man and his interactions with nature, which is a palatable subject, yet he lingers far too long on seemingly pointless, overly-sedate moments.
When the film finally begins to gain steam, Herzog throws a mix of good and bad at us. His decision to leave the Vietnamese speech unsubtitled keeps us as alienated as Dengler and his fellow prisoners, a smart and daring choice, yet he also dabbles in some wild idiosyncrasies , particularly with his insistence to throw line after line of awkward dialogue and enunciation at the rather unfortunate (for once) Christian Bale, who tries his hardest with the material, but himself also falters.
I found myself struggling to identify with Dengler as a hero - he is only mildly likable from the outset, and whilst we sympathise with him for being thrown headfirst into an impossible situation, his temperament is never defined. Usually, this would be hailed as "complex character development", but Herzog appears not to know where he wishes to venture with Dengler, resulting in a baffling character for a decent portion of the film's first half.
"Baffling" is a word one could use to describe much of Rescue Dawn - Herzog, for some reason, throws a number of strange elements at us, such as one of Dengler's captors, a sympathetic midget, providing the film's primary source of comic relief, and in general, the film makes far too many references to fecal matter for one's preference in a film such as this. Further still, the guards are by and large a pack of jokers, and it feels nothing short of clichéd. The guards are dealt a semblance of humanity as the film progresses, but this is a mere footnote, considering some of their violent and inhumane acts throughout.
As disappointing as the film becomes when considering the director involved, performance-wise, the film also leaves a dissatisfying taste. There is no "bad" acting as such, yet when one considers the involvement of Christian Bale, one would hope for a little more than the final product gives us, although how much Bale is to blame for this is debatable. At times, Bale's portrayal feels overwrought to the point of hamminess (even moreso than in "American Psycho"), and whilst there's no getting away from the fact that his Dengler is a deeply unfortuante being, Bale, through his performance, fails to construe this as well as he could have. Be that as it may, the dialogue Bale had to work with lacked flair, and so he is likely only half to blame.
As Dengler and his cohorts plan and execute their escape, the film finally ratchets up the intensity, although this section is far too brief, and soon enough, we once again become bogged down in the drudgery of scenes that dawdle along when they should hit the ground running.
As certain characters die or otherwise disappear, Herzog fails to draw fully, or much at all, on the emotional impact that this entails, much to the picture's expense. Considering we learn that these men share a fairly tight bond, to simply pass up the chance for emotional catharsis in wake of their departure is a near-criminal error. Furthermore, the fact that, as the credits roll, we are still left wondering about the fates of several characters, is an irritation. One can recognise Herzog's possible motivations, but considering the real Dengler undoubtedly discovered their fates eventually, to keep us in the dark is frustrating.
Rescue Dawn takes a curious turn in its closing moments - it delves into explorations of jungle fever, and whilst Herzog restrains himself in not painting the screen red with a bloody, psychotic finale, to illustrate such an antiquated theme is a surprise, coming from Herzog - not a pleasant one, nor a terribly annoying one either, fortunately.
The film's close is largely preposterous and near-bulldozes any poignance the film was otherwise able to retain. As the credits roll, and we should raise our heads high at this display of unstoppable heroism, I instead found myself questioning the logic of what had just appeared before me, and why a wealth of melodrama was introduced to destroy what would otherwise have been a reflective, contemplative ending.
Werner Herzog's latest film is an ostensible disappointment - it is a bloated, overlong picture with disappointing performances and a bland script. The film is lush to behold, with a wealth of wonderful, memorable shots, yet without a great deal of interesting activity forming around these shots, we have something no more digestible than a series of paintings.
Rescue Dawn pairs up two people that for me spell box office gold, the magnificent Christian Bale who seems to only appear in quality productions and now for over 20 years, and freaky German director Werner Herzog who has in the past gone as far as hypnotising his cast for a movies duration in order to achieve his desired look. Then of course the revival of a genre that although 20 years ago generated movies at the rate of 10 a penny has been little seen since, The Vietnam War.
Lt. Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) wanted nothing more than to fly, so much so in order to follow his dream he enlists in the US Navy as a fighter pilot, in doing so he allows himself to be involved in a war he does not believe in. Like any typical self opinionated individual who claims to know it all, Dengler on his first flight over Vietnam is shot down, refusing to eject and allow himself to be easily found he is stuck in the belief that the captain goes down with his ship (forgetting he is in a plane), Dengler finds himself well off radar, in an area full of dangers.
It's not long until Dengler is captured by Vietnamese militia who after days of arduous travelling allow him a get out clause and a return home in exchange for publically declaring America the enemy and wrong for their attacks on Vietnam. But staying true to form Dengler refuses and is traded in to a small prison camp ran by ragtag outlaw types. When Dengler discovers his handful of other prisoners have all been there between one and three years and all going slightly mad he realises that against terrible odds he must escape.
Rescue Dawn is based on a true story, and a film adaptation of Herzog's earlier docu-drama Little Dieter Needs To Fly. Because of Herzog's already close relationship with the real Dengler, it allows him to get a greater focus of the subject matter. On top of this Herzog delivers what I believe to be the most accurate portrayal of pre-wartorn Vietnam; first focusing on the beauty of the location, and then the horror that initially is well hidden. Herzog delivers some absolutely stunning scenes Bale stood on a giant rock, and a child playing with a giant insect on a string above Bale's head. Aspects such as these actually make the movie look more like a documentary than a film.
Bale's characters pig ignorance is present throughout the movie, initially barking orders and showing aggression towards his empowered captors. Then his constant insistence that his current predicament is more of a glitch than anything else actually annoyed me. But as he cleverly plans the escape for he and his fellow captives the character begins to warm to you; especially when you take into account that he is the one positive thinker in a band of negatives.
The casting of Steve Zahn as Dengler's fellow escapee Duane is positively inspired, I have only ever seen Zahn (with the exception of Roadkill) deliver comedy roles, so to see him play a dead serious role is not only rewarding, but a real shot from the dark. The Freak Talks About Sex actor is initially the most mentally lucid of Denglers dysfunctional followers, and the most optimistic to new hope.
I found Jeremy Davies portrayal of Eugene McBroom both incredible and irritating, and had I been imprisoned with such an annoying and pig ignorant individual I'd be considering a special despatch method for him. If you work within a team you often find that there is someone always pulling in the other direction, and Eugene is that character here. Even up to his final moments in the movie he manages to annoy, never once (for me anyway) showing a single element that I would consider makes him endearing to the audience.
Rescue Dawn is a really horrific movie, and anyone who has seen the events of the 90th minute is not only bound to agree with me, but me haunted by that memory for long after the movie finishes. These events are delivered with savage brutality that only a European director would have the guts to give to the viewer. It's not just the visual horror, it's the feeling of isolation and insecurity that Herzog makes you physically feel. Even elaborating on the smallest of details that we often think about but are never addressed in movies like going to the toilet, or as is more the case here never quite making it.
On the downside I did find that some scenes were given too much focus, a real negative aspect from using a European director. Herzog focuses to many times on the smallest detail which at times butts heads heavily with the positive natures of the movie, a few times I found myself drawn away from the TV screen focusing on other issues, because I had lost interest for short bursts of time.
Despite the final criticism I did enjoy Rescue Dawn and believe that it is without doubt one of the best Vietnam movies ever made, it has a really genuine feel to it, captivating detail, and a well timed length that keeps it the right side of what could be a terrible car crash.
Rescue Dawn hits DVD in May, though those with multi-region DVD players can obtain this on DVD from playusa.com now for around £18, and around £25 on HD DVD and Blue-Ray.
Spencer Hawken 12/07
Its not often I go to the cinema these days. Im thoroughly uninspired by the posters and trailers. So seeing a new film some weeks before its release in this country is quite a rarity for me. But its directed by Werner Herzog, arthouse films crazy German uncle. Being jaded is one thing; to not see this on the big screen would be rather like shooting oneself in the foot.
A pioneer of the New German Cinema movement of the 70s, Herzog is best known for his work with the deranged but occasionally brilliant actor Klaus Kinski (their collaboration on Aguirre, The Wrath Of God gave us one of the greatest films ever made). His fictional films without Kinski are also worth a look, especially the mind-boggling Even Dwarfs Started Small (you really havent lived if youve not seen that one). There are two nice boxsets of Herzogs films put out by Anchor Bay which belong in every cinema fans collection.
Since the late 80s Herzog has mostly made documentaries, which are also excellent but tend to be a little more elusive. The idiot gets eaten by bears documentary Grizzly Man, which did well last year, was one of Herzogs. Rescue Dawn is Herzogs first ever Hollywood film and his first non-documentary for some years. Its a retelling of an apparently true story he already made a documentary about (Little Dieter Needs To Fly).
It tells the story of Dieter Dengler, an American pilot. On his first mission (bombing Laos in 1965, as the American military presence in Vietnam was escalating into a real war) his plane is shot down. Hes taken prisoner by the Viet Cong. Tortured and starved, he eventually ends up in a small prisoner camp with a handful of others. The camp is in the middle of a rainforest, but Dieter is determined to escape
The film begins by telling us that this is a true story, and the big disadvantage of that is that you know from the outset that Dieter makes it home. I doubt this was a consideration for Herzog, who generally doesnt venture too close to anything commercial, but it does rather minimise the threat to the central character. Theres a fairly suspenseful sequence as the prisoners plan their escape, as we dont know which of the secondary characters are going to survive, but I dont know if Herzog really wants us to care or not. For him, its a return to his abiding theme, that of mans insignificance in relation to a natural world which is hostile and terrifyingly inscrutable.
Its surprising how long it takes us to get to the jungle-survivalist stuff, as Id imagine thats what chiefly interests the director. Its more than halfway through before Dieter and friends get out there and have to fend for themselves. It doesnt disappoint, though. Herzog has the uncanny ability to make any landscape seem alien, and this is not the cuddly jungle of Hollywood efforts like Romancing The Stone or Apocalypse Now (a film which tried desperately to be Aguirre but just doesnt have the intelligence). The usual jungle-film clichés are not present there are no blowpipe wielding savages or big cats. Instead it gives you some idea of just how terrifyingly vast a jungle is and how utterly disorientating it would be to be lost in one.
Dengler is played by Christian Bale. Its a sign of how little interest I have in modern cinema that I think this is the first of his films that Ive seen. Im aware of his reputation, and certainly he carries the part off with immense skill, but I didnt find him particularly likeable. He loses a whole load of weight and gets to do all kinds of icky things like eating live maggots and being covered in leeches. Which is fine and all, but it feels a bit technical, as if its been done with one eye on the Oscars as much as anything. Dengler (the character) has a cheerful, almost cocky streak in the face of adversity, and that didnt really work in the performance. I felt like I was watching an actor of great technical ability but no heart (I get a similar reaction to Daniel Day Lewis).
There are two other significant American characters, Gene and Duane, Dieters fellow prisoners. Played by Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies, neither of whom was familiar to me, theyre both very good. Painfully thin, they convince as men whove been held captive for months or years, both perilously close to losing it, but both capable of being petty and irritating, I actually found them rather more endearing than Dieter. Theyre both based on real people, of course, but they brought the film closest to war-film cliché, as you can tell one of thems going to be the-one-that-cracks-up.
The rest of the cast, beyond the opening minutes, is made up of South-East Asian actors. The people who initially capture Dieter are successfully shown as both a terrifying, unreasoning force of destruction and a realistic community that has a good reason for wanting revenge on America. (Although Herzog doesnt make glib political statements, it takes quite a while to forget that Dieter is participating in a war crime bombing a non-combatant nation when hes shot down.) The audience never gets more than a fleeting idea of what the prison camp guards are really like, as theyre seen from the prisoners point of view, so we just get to know them as they do the nice one, the nasty one, the crazy one etc.
There are a couple of nice Herzog touches, including a machine gun toting dwarf and a dog walking on its hind legs across the screen for no reason whatsoever. The photography is very good, having a raw edge to it, and never letting the jungle be beautiful. Above all the film has an energy that just seems to be lacking in so many films these days. Even if I wasnt totally engaged by the main character, I still found his journey as a piece of cinema utterly compelling. And its not some kind of dry academic exercise in arthouse; this is a real, vivid portrait of an environment where man doesnt belong.
The production company apparently had a fraught relationship with Herzog during the making of the film. This may explain the fact that the film goes on about ten minutes too long - theres a very obvious point at which it should have ended, but instead we get a mildly annoying god bless Americas wacky armed forces coda. And although the incidental music is generally pretty good, the end theme is hackneyed, the kind of slow orchestral stuff thats been slapped onto Vietnam films ever since Platoon.
But all in all this is well worth a look and Im glad I was tempted into a cinema to see it (the fact that it was free didnt hurt, of course). Its rated 12A, probably because of the torture sequences (which dont go on too long and arent particularly visceral). Its released in the UK on 23rd November, and probably wont do as well as it deserves.