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Movie Review: Rescue Dawn

Rescue Dawn
Written and directed by Werner Herzog

Herzog, best known for documentaries and especially here in the States for Grizzly Man, here basically remakes his 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly into a feature film.

It’s 1965 and the U.S. hasn’t gotten deep into Vietnam yet, but secret operations are underway and in this story, fighter pilots are about to attack supply installations in Laos.  One of these pilots is Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), who gets shot down and is captured looking for rescue, soon sent to an outpost where some not very bright, but dangerous, Laotian guards are keeping a few POWs.

In the prison camp, Dieter meets Gene (Jeremy Davies) and Duane (Steve Zahn), and a few others, together making six in all.  They’ve all been in the camp for more than a year.  Dieter, whose specialty is surviving in tough conditions, being able to think ahead, plan, and so forth, believes he can escape the prison with the right preparation.  He immediately gets flack from Gene, who feels even an escape is a death wish out in the miles of jungle, but the others definitely want to get the hell out of there.

This is your basic survival story, but it’s a compelling one.  I’ve always enjoyed stories where someone has to think their way out of a situation, rather than random blasting of bad guys.  And, right now, there’s just about no better actor than Christian Bale to take us through a story like this.  He’s yet again winning in this movie, as he always seems to be, but he’s yet to be a spotlight actor.  I think it serves us well for him not to be a Brad Pitt type.  But at the same time, he’s having a career right now that seems an awful lot like Johnny Depp’s before Pirates of the Caribbean, meaning everyone who watches his films thinks he’s awesome, but he doesn’t get awards recognition or media attention.  Fine by me.  He’s got to be one of my favorite actors of the past five years.

Meanwhile, Herzog does well shooting a feature that at first I thought might be a little on the boring side.  But once it gets good, it stays good for a good long time before fading a bit towards the end.  It’s the nature of the story that the middle part is the most action-packed and interesting.  I like how he’s able to stick some humor in a bad situation, too.  Steve Zahn provides a lot of that, of course, but so does Bale.

Currently playing on a limited amount of screens, I’m sure this movie will do well enough to garner many expansions in the future, so be sure to see it when it arrives in your area.

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