The real-life story of U.S. Navy fighter pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), a German-American shot down and captured in Laos during the Vietnam War. Dengler is taken to a remote jungle camp to join a handful of other captives, including Duane Martin (Steve Zahn) and Gene (Jeremy Davies), who have been held for so long they've lost hope. But Dengler immediately begins to think of escape, and starts by stealing a nail to fashion it into a tool that will open their handcuffs, which are used at night to keep the half dozen prisoners interlocked, their legs manacled in large timber beams. Despite crazed and fearful Gene's opposition to the escape, Dengler and Duane persevere with the plan to surround their captors with their own abandoned weapons during the daytime break for a bowl of rice. They hope to make a break for it through the surrounding jungle - jungle and weather permitting.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Rescue Dawn is one of those rare war action dramas that works on several levels, all of them valid and meaningful. First, it's a fact based story of courage and escape under extreme circumstances, which gives the film its adrenaline effect. Secondly, it's a complex mixture of characters and concepts dancing with each other to the tune of the human condition.
Let's take the straight forward aspects first, which begin with pre-action briefings and the establishment of the war setting. This quickly moves to the second act where Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) is shot down and survives, only to be captured by enemy soldiers - except they look like villagers and have a nasty streak. Bashed and dragged through the village tied by his legs to a fairly active cow, Dengler is dumped in a bamboo cage with four rotting prisoners, in a remote jungle camp. The guards are as hungry and desperate as their captors, and the only possible reason for their survival is that they might have some value in negotiating with the Americans.
But conditions are terrible and as Dengler prepares his escape plan, the film gently slots into its escape genre mode. Very well done it is, too, but if you pay attention you'll notice touches of humour, irony and observation that pepper the screenplay. For example, early in the film at a pre-action briefing, the men are shown an information film about jungle survival. They mock it with bravado, but by the film's final act, those hokey looking tips are immensely relevant. The Vietcong captors are portrayed with a mixture of brutality and pragmatism - although one notable guard, a mini-man nicknamed Jumbo (Kriangsak Ming-olo) by the prisoners tends to smile a lot and be generally pleasant. Yet the characters are given a certain dimension, unlike lesser films might care to do.
There are no false heroics, either, as Dengler loses his comfortable weight and gets to look almost as skeletal as Jeremy Davies - who in turn looks like Bale looked in The Machinist. All three leads are superb; who but a visionary and crafty director would have cast the eternally quirky/amusing Steve Zahn in this role. And he is as moving as he is dramatic in it.
As a war escape genre movie, this may not be unique, but the story is, as is the film; you'll also be happily surprised that there is no regurgitating of 60s music, Herzog opting instead for Klaus Badelt's rich orchestral work. The cinematography is fabulous, especially the many jungle scenes.
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RESCUE DAWN (MA)
CAST: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, Galen Yuen, Abhijati 'Meuk' Jusakul, Kriangsak Ming-olo, Yuttana Muenwaja, Teerawat Mulvilai, Chorn Solyda, Francois Chau
PRODUCER: Elton Brand, Harry Knapp, Steve Marlton
DIRECTOR: Werner Herzog
SCRIPT: Werner Herzog
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Zeitlinger
EDITOR: Joe Bini
MUSIC: Klaus Badelt
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Arin Aoi Pinijvararak
RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 22, 2007