Director: Werner Herzog
Writer: Werner Herzog
Stars: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies
I sometimes have to remind myself that between Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) Christian Bale was keeping himself busy with excellent movies such as “I’m Not There”, “3:10 to Yuma”, “The Prestige” and “Rescue Dawn”.
In fact the latter is the one out of these movies for me that slipped under my radar and thankfully I have now watched this tale about A U.S. fighter pilot’s struggle of survival after being shot down on a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War and captured.
“Rescue Dawn” isn’t an all guns blazing “Rambo” type Vietnam War movie where our hero saves the day. In fact, it’s more like “Cast Away” in the Jungle. Bale plays U.S. Pilot Dieter Dengler who is thrown in a prisoner of war camp being subjected to torture and humiliation. Dengler befriends fellow soldiers who have been captured over the years in Duane (Zahn) and Gene (Davies) and a plan to escape is already in motion in Dengler’s mind.
Werner Herzog Directed and wrote this movie. I have always believed when the director is in the writing chair it is a match made in moviemaking. Herzog “the writer” gives us a beautifully written script and character based storyline that is interesting, funny and heartbreaking. Herzog “the Director” gives us a movie that appears to have given the actors an amount of freedom to portray these poor souls only out to survive before their mental torment takes over their minds.
As far as casting goes, the three main actors have great chemistry from the moment they meet on screen Bale, Zahn and Davies all portray different versions of prisoners of war and for me Zahn is the standout in “Rescue Dawn” his portrayal of the troubled Duane is a thing of beauty and there are some touching scenes between him and Bale as Dengler.
As the story unfolds, Duane’s mind is breaking down gradually and becomes dependent on Dieter which to me is a testament to the acting abilities of Steve Zahn who I have always enjoyed watching in previous movies. His portrayal is a patient and gradual decline that the audience will only realise by the end of the movie when you think back to his opening scene.
This is not to say that Bale is outdone in any fashion. Christian Bale is and always will be an excellent actor but his role in the movie is somewhat a master of ceremonies in the middle part of the film where I felt Zahn shines. Bale as Dieter Dengler is brilliant and his character physically and mentally is the sharpest due to the others spending more time in the POW Camp than him and carries the story along with conviction.
Jeremy Davies should also be commended as Gene. His character is more cynical but at the same time sharp witted with an edge to him. Physically Davies must have starved himself to appear as a long suffering prisoner of war and his appearance is shocking although perhaps not as shocking as Bale in “The Machinist (2004)” but nevertheless is committed to the character and again like Zahn portrays a long suffering mentally disturbed individual who appears to be ready to break.
“Rescue Dawn” is a brilliant character based movie that has invested in its characters and its storyline with a beautifully haunting soundtrack by Klaus Badelt and stunning Vietnamese scenery by Peter Zeitlinger the films Cinematographer.
The film is an escape movie to an extent but in a realistic fashion that relies on limited resources and no disposing of soil from a freshly dug tunnel is to be seen. If you haven’t saw this movie I would recommend giving it ago and although it is now over 11 years old it is a movie as I previously mentioned that got away from me. Highly Recommend.