MRR Movie Review: Rescue Dawn


Movie Review: "Rescue Dawn"

-- Rating: PG-13 (For some sequences of intense war violence and torture)
Length: 126 minutes
Release Date: July 27, 2007
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Genre: Adventure, Biography, and Drama

The war film "Rescue Dawn" was adapted from the documentary "Little Dieter Needs to Fly." The documentary was created by Werner Herzog, who was also the director of "Rescue Dawn." It is based on the true story of a German-American pilot who was captured by in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Herzog is a German film producer, actor, director, and opera director who is considered by many of his peers as one of the most talented figures of the New German Cinema period.

In "Rescue Dawn," Dieter Dengler (portrayed by Christian Bale) is a U.S. Navy pilot who was born in German. The pilot, a member of squadron VA-145, is shot down and captured while on a combat mission in Laos. His captors, the Pathet Lao, take him to the Province Governor offers him leniency in exchange for signing a document condemning America. The gallant hero refuses to sign the document and is tortured several times before being taken to a prison camp.

At the camp, Dengler meets and teams up with other American captives. He learns that some of them prisoners have been in prison for years. He learns that his fellow prisoners have been psychologically and physically tortured, but he refuses to believe that a similar fate awaits him. The American soldiers/prisoners at the camp include Duane W. Martin (portrayed by Steve Zahn) and Gene DeBruin (portrayed by Jeremy Davies). Dengler convinces them to plan for an escape, an uphill task given what the prisoners have endured over the years.

In the end, he manages to convince all prisoners to agree to his plan. On the day of the escape, all the prisoners except Martin and Dengler stick to the plan. The result is that only the two succeed in escaping, with the others disappearing for the rest of the movie's runtime. When the duo tries to cross the Mekong River, Martin is killed by the villagers. Dengler manages to cross into Thailand where he is rescued by an American helicopter.

One of the first things people say after watching the movie is that Dengler is a perfect advertisement for capitalist democracy. Whoever angle it is viewed from, the story of a German immigrant who survives the Allied bombing of Germany during World War II to settle and thrive in America is an enthralling one. He is portrayed as having the American spirit when he refuses to sign a document denouncing his adoptive country. Essentially a feel-good movie about the great spirit of America, "Rescue Dawn" has drawn a lot of comparison with "Top Gun."

Herzog is not new to filmmaking, but he has been involved in controversies in the past. His critics have accused him of giving residents of third world countries a raw deal in his movies by treating them as part of the scenery. Whether or not these accusations may have been true in the past, the same cannot be said of "Rescue Dawn." In this film, Dengler's captors are treated as human beings too. The captors are shown as vicious (just as most enemies are in war), but they are also depicted as victims of the prevailing circumstances. For example, they are vicious because their living and working conditions are boring and depressing. In fact, they exhibit occasional acts of kindness towards their prisoners.

If there is one thing the audience can take away from "Rescue Dawn," it is the portrait of friendship and love that blossom when men are banded together in bleak circumstances. Even the platonic friendship between Dengler and Martin has substantial detail and depth. This can be seen when the former commits to helping Martin escape despite the lurking danger.

This is not to say that Herzog has succeeded in making a flawless film. Despite the fact that it is based on factual happenings, it is still a little bit predictable. Those who have watched the movie will agree that its ending is decidedly conventional-and a disappointing one at that.

Despite the story's obvious flaws, the rendering was impeccable. Bale did a great job of portraying an emaciated Dengler, especially considering how bulky he had been in "Batman Begins." Apart from this physical success, he also depicts fitting emotions in his friendship with Martin, his torture sessions, and even when eating the insects they were forced to consume in order to survive. The other cast members played their roles too, and the general performance of the cast members of "Rescue Dawn," was laudable. The film is an interesting one, both for those who wish to draw excessive parallels with current events and for those who just want to sit back and enjoy a good action movie.

Rating: 4 out of 5