Movie Review for Rescue Dawn (2007)

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Review #487 of 365
Movie Review of Rescue Dawn (2007) [PG-13] 125 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $14.75
Where Viewed: Landmark Esquire Theatre, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 24 July 2007
Time: 4:30 pm
DVD Release: 20 November 2007 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer

Soundtrack: Klaus Badelt - Rescue Dawn - or - order the CD below

Directed by: Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man)
Screenplay by: Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man)

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Christian Bale (The Prestige) • Steve Zahn (Bandidas) • Abhijati 'Meuk' Jusakul (Shutter) • Lek Chaiyan Chunsuttiwat (debut) • Teerawat Mulvilai (Holly) • Jeremy Davies (Manderlay)

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
From its auspicious beginning, which recreates covert and top secret bombings of targets in Laos that were serving as supply routes to Vietcong camps just across the border into Vietnam, a few years before there was a war, and even more before anyone knew that the USA was involved in missions that violated the territory of Laos, one knows immediately that Rescue Dawn, by acclaimed German writer/director Werner Herzog, isn't going to be a story of benevolent victory by mighty US forces, rather this is a film where context is there simply as the framework for a more personal story. As the screen lights up, beautiful aircrafts float effortlessly over their targets delivering their bombs with surgeon-like precision, yet the Klaus Badelt musical score Mr. Herzog has selected for this sortie is not Apocalypse Now, it's more pastoral and beautiful suggesting that that the destruction below is merely the afterthought to the majesty of the pilot and the aircraft above. It was getting face-to-face with this beauty in the air as a child in the Black Forest of Germany, in fact, that drove real life, German immigrant, Dieter Dengler, to join the US Navy to become a pilot.

"… remarkable and triumphant…Christian Bale delivers another magnificent performance…"
The film is the story his first mission in the far East where he found himself hit and surviving his first of five lifetime, plane crashes. It's not a spoiler to know from the outset that Dieter does survive the ordeals, how else would this story be known? Even so, knowing this provides only so much comfort, for really, his is a story that reveals the ultimate test of a human being's will to survive.

Shortly after crashing in an unknown to him region of Laos, Dieter (Christian Bale) flees his enflamed aircraft to seek protection from the jungle just as the foreshadowing film reels had suggested to the men on board his ship as if to foreshadow his own future needs. After some time and a few attempts to radio for help and rescue, he spends the night in his homemade mosquito net tarp. Unfortunately, his efforts to remain hidden in the jungle eventually fail, and he is captured by rough men with guns who haul him to their village where he is tortured fairly mercilessly and in ways designed to break a man's spirit. From there, he is trucked to a meeting with a military liaison who offers him amnesty and release within two weeks if he will only sign a waiver agreeing that the imperialistic ways and antagonism of Laos by the USA much stop. His refusals to sign and adherence to loyalty to the USA land him on a journey to a prison camp where he will meet up with five other men being held and run by a man whom the prisoners of war have dubbed "Little Hitler" (Teerawat Mulvilai) due to his cruelty. Among these men are Duane (Steve Zahn), Eugene (Jeremy Davies), Phisit (Abhijati 'Meuk' Jusakul) and Procet (Lek Chaiyan Chunsuttiwat). He bonds readily with Duane who looks up to his talk of escape as a ray of hope. Eugene, whose wild beard and pacifist approach to their release, however, doesn't like Dieter's enthusiasm. Some of the men have been in the camp for more than two years as it is. As the months pass, and Dieter conceives several escape plans, the food resources for the camp begin to dwindle as more and more men are taken from the jobs of providing food for the nation toward providing defense. This has a trickle down effect leading the operators of the camp to feel it would be better to kill the prisoners in the jungle than have to feed and guard them—neither of which were bringing food to their families back home. With this news, Dieter feels the time has come to get out once and for all, find the river and float to safety in Thailand. Eugene has been a stickler against any plans for escape, but eventually goes along, sort of, with this latest plan.

Really, though, again, this represents a contextual backdrop for the test of Dieter's will. It illustrates there are generally two types of people in the world: those that keep up their spirit with hopes and dreams of a better future perhaps out of fear or zealous faith, and those who keep up their spirit with the knowledge that they will act and then do act to make a better future. Dieter Dengler happened to be of the second variety. A true leader and hero who found the inner strength and will to survive against common sense, to resist the mental wear down of his captors, and to escape and regain his freedom against largely insurmountable odds. Enthralling, the witnessing of men falling into one of these two categories causes consideration and introspection into one's own character.

The early Oscar®-buzz surrounding this film is justified to an extent. Steve Zahn is Sam Gamgee to Christian Bale's Frodo, pardon the LOTR comparison, but it is fitting in many ways. His performance is quite similar to that of Sean Astin's, and certainly one of the best supporting acting performances of this year so far. Meanwhile, Christian Bale has delivered far too many Oscar®-worthy performances to be ignored one more time. He's got to receive a nomination for this role though true fans will note this is probably not quite as brilliant as that of The Machinist or even, slightly, The Prestige.

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Ironically, his own choice of roles has afforded him growth and development to where this role here seems nearly effortless for him. He didn't have to lose nearly as much weight, portray twin brothers, nor wield a grin while using a chainsaw to commit heinous crimes. In this, his greatest obstacle is that he is forced to join the ranks of the barefoot heroes from John McClane to Tarzan as his captors feel the best way to keep their prisoners from escaping is to deprive them of their shoes. All kidding aside, though, Christian Bale delivers another magnificent performance and Rescue Dawn is a very, very good film. He truly is one of the greatest living actors, certainly the very best of his generation, and he shares the uncanny ability with Meryl Streep to be able to do just about any accent. Here, he seems perfectly at home doing a German American immigrant accent that's totally different that anything he's done before.

As a whole, the film itself is remarkable and triumphant though with an air of déjà vu to it. The outward story of a gunned-down pilot and his journey toward survival or even his stay in a prison camp isn't that new. This treatment by Werner Herzog and the real life story of Dieter Dengler, however, where the focus is really on the personal leanings and fiber of the man, is. Some say this is the best film of the summer, which, is difficult to argue, except that most would realize such is not really a compliment as we all know that summer is a different season for film—it's big action, it's sequels, it's we don't care about plots and acting, just effects and getting people to come inside during beautiful weather. Not that great films cannot be released in the summer it's just that the summer isn't known for them. So, it would be better to say, one of the best films of the year so far even though, of course, studios consciously wait to release films they perceive to be among the best in the fall, closer to nomination time, and there are many more equally great films to come, at least, theoretically.

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Cast Members
Christian BaleSteve ZahnAbhijati 'Meuk' Jusakul
Lek Chaiyan ChunsuttiwatTeerawat MulvilaiJeremy Davies
Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog
CD Sountrack
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Review-lite Rescue Dawn (2007) [max of 150 words]
Writer / Director Werner Herzog expands on his short film creating the major motion picture, Rescue Dawn, which tells the tale of German American immigrant Dieter Dengler's (Christian Bale) heroic survival against all odds after crashing in Laos pre-Vietnam war on a top secret mission to bomb enemy supply lines. Arriving in a prison camp occupied by prisoners that have been there for over a year, he immediately begins to change the climate of the place with talk of escape where the previous 'leader' Eugene placated them all with talk of release. Steve Zahn and Christian Bale both deliver Oscar®-nomination worthy performances, in this triumphant film about the will of a man to survive.

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