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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.85%
Average: 5.77%
Pretty Bad: 1.92%
Total Crap: 0%

5 reviews, 22 user ratings

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Rescue Dawn
[] Buy posters from this movie
by brianorndorf

"Mr. Herzog, I now forgive you for 'Grizzly Man'"
5 stars

“Rescue Dawn” commences with footage of a bombing in Vietnam. No, it’s more like an explosive ballet of metal, fire, and greenery all mixed together in a historical cocktail that’s familiar, but never presented this detached and alive before. What follows next could be described as an equally unnerving, but unquestionably lovely, presentation of misery and demise.

Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) was a Navy pilot sent to Vietnam for a tour in 1966. During a bombing raid, Dieter was shot down behind enemy lines, where he escaped serious injury, but not North Vietnamese soldiers. Sent to a prison camp for his crimes, Dieter was subjected to torture, starvation, and psychological terror as his hopes for rescue slowly dwindled. Leaving him with one choice, Dieter and other prisoners (including Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies) form a plan to break out of the camp, leaving themselves wide open to the horrors of Mother Nature as they search for freedom.

Returning to the thorny fields of narrative features after a long stint churning out documentaries focused on illuminating the human spirit, director Werner Herzog finds a peace with “Rescue Dawn” that’s unmistakably Herzogian. The story whisks the filmmaker away to his beloved areas of exploration, playing to his strengths as a director instead of challenging him to reach a higher standard.

Frankly, this is most likely the best Herzog film I’ve seen to date; the director strips away layers of pretense and bleary-eyed waddle to engage the viewer with a simple tale of survival. When I write “simple,” that’s exactly what “Dawn” is: a succinct motion picture that ignores the structure traps similar product is beholden to. Dieter’s story is a straightforward odyssey of cultural bewilderment and pride and Herzog has the utmost respect for those emotions. Instead of cluttering the script up with artifice, he stays alert to Dieter’s journey, permitting the actor lovingly detailed moments of reaction and dreamlike expressions of hope and courage.

Herzog also find the splendor in the landscape, molding Dieter’s journey through Laos as a wonderland of threat and surprise, where behind every rock could find rescue or yet another landscape roadblock. “Dawn” is concerned with endurance, and the film follows every inch of the escape, slowing down to survey Dieter’s skills in the field, including the creation of fire, navigating raging leech-infested waters, and wearily hacking away at endless foliage to clear himself a semblance of a path. It’s almost procedural in execution; Herzog is completely devoted to his characters even through the mundane acts of their quest for freedom.

What this attention does is generate an impenetrable sensation of location; Vietnam itself becoming the ultimate antagonist. The audience is made to feel in the thick of the hunt, bleeding and starving with these men as they vigilantly plan their escape. “Dawn” is a visceral film, which is ultimately a credit to Herzog and his patience with the story, allowing the audiences plentiful opportunity to process Dieter as a man as well as a creature of survival.

It goes without saying the Christian Bale is one of finest actors of his generation, and he continues to floor me with his range. In “Dawn” Bale plays an undemanding flyboy; a Naval officer electing the heat of combat just so can fly his adored planes. Bale plays bravado and authority with meticulousness, but once the fatigue of defiance starts to settle in, along with deprivation of food and water, Bale turns Dieter into a shell of man with a singular mission to get the hell out of his confinement. He’s utterly convincing in every scene.

Also of merit is the supporting work from Zahn, who molds a chilling portrayal of a soldier eaten away by his imprisonment. Gaunt and lifeless, Zahn turns himself inside out for the first time in his career. Less can be said of Davies, who delivers the same performance he always provides: twitchy and prolonged. An actor of zero range, Davies is the weak link of the chain here, spinning what should be a wounded expression of psychological torment into a hacky Charles Mansion riff that belongs in a different movie.

An expansion of Herzog’s 1997 documentary on Dieter, “Dawn” endeavors to dramatically appreciate the pilot’s test of stamina with details alive and devastating, and it makes for mesmerizing cinema. “Rescue Dawn” is stark, blessedly simple, and encrusted with a thickened level of primitive sophistication, celebrating the fight to survive with euphoric and evocative visual brush strokes.

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originally posted: 07/20/07 16:42:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2006 Austin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2007 Portland Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/01/10 matt A strange film. Not Hollywoodized, but oddly self-serving. Well made and acted though 4 stars
6/21/09 mr.mike Ending makes it worthwhile. Don't get why Bale acts crazy the whole movie. 4 stars
1/15/09 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
1/10/09 Anonymous. slow at times, but for the majority, it was good. 4 stars
10/27/08 Michael M An incredible story (to borrow the cliche) you have to see to believe. An emotional ride. 5 stars
1/31/08 Beck Steve Zahn at his finest 4 stars
1/28/08 Egg It kills me to use the word 'typical' when describing another POW film; but I did. 3 stars
11/24/07 action movie fan good start, but too much talk and too redundant to be truly exciting 3 stars
11/14/07 Double M Sadly, Bale disappoints for the 1st (& i hope last) time & was owned by Zahn. worth seeing. 4 stars
10/24/07 William Goss Harrowing tale of POW survival is exhausting in the best possible way. Zahn stands out. 4 stars
9/05/07 crowomon Herzog does great films 5 stars
8/16/07 Frank yep, wonderful by all, well done, splendid, breath giving, heart felt entertainment 5 stars
7/29/07 Elizabeth S Another fine performance from Christian Bale. 4 stars
7/26/07 LaRae Meadows Before I saw this I didn't know there could be an inspiring war movie! 5 stars
7/25/07 Ted Unforgettable! Oscar-level performances and superb cinmatography. 5 stars
7/24/07 Meschelle The last 15 minutes should have been 45 minutes ago. Lost it grounds. 2 stars
7/21/07 Ole Man Bourbon Well done 4 stars
7/16/07 pylgrym Great Art helps us live in better ways while engrossing and entertaining us. 5 stars
7/10/07 The Chode Great Film 5 stars
9/29/06 AdamAnt Herzog does all-American hero film shock. Flick's good enough, but not great. 3 stars
9/12/06 patrick johnson Awesome 5 stars
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  04-Jul-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 20-Nov-2007


  08-Nov-2007 (MA)

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Werner Herzog

Written by
  Werner Herzog

  Christian Bale
  Steve Zahn
  Jeremy Davies
  Zach Grenier
  Marshall Bell
  Evan Jones

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