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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
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by Lybarger

"Herzog and his cast suffer excruciating hardships so you don't have to."
5 stars

‘Rescue Dawn’ is a wartime adventure that has less hardware, pyrotechnics and gore than most of its peers. That doesn’t stop German writer-director Werner Herzog (‘Grizzly Man’) from delivering a tense, harrowing and ultimately exhilarating movie that earns every jolt it elicits. In his own off-handed way, Herzog proves that realism can be more thrilling than most cinematic gimmicks.

Herzog is actually retracing the story he told ten years ago with the documentary “Little Dieter Needs to Fly.” Miraculously, the new film doesn’t feel like a warmed-over take on the previous tale.

In 1966, Lt. Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale, “Batman Begins”), a German-born American navy pilot was shot down over Laos during an attack on Viet Cong supply lines and was taken to a prison camp. In the camp, he and his fellow prisoners endured severe malnutrition and interrogation techniques that certainly defied Geneva conventions.

Like most of the protagonists in Herzog’s movies, Dengler, as presented in the film, has an eerie, almost illogical confidence in his ability to conquer seemingly insurmountable situations. While his fellow captives Duane (Steve Zahn) and Eugene (Jeremy Davies) think that the Laotian jungles will kill anyone who gets past the sadistic guards in the POW camp, Dengler believes he can return to his ship.

Dengler’s certainty of his escape borders on madness, but it’s what keeps him alive during his ordeal. In fact, Dengler became a pilot because he was mesmerized by watching Allied planes attacking his home during World War II. By focusing on Dengler’s borderline insanity, “Rescue Dawn” quickly becomes more than a Rambo-esque shoot-em-up.

Bale’s cocky grin in the face of the bleak camp makes viewers wonder if he knows something his captors don’t or if he should be in a rubber room. Bale and his fellow cast members both lost considerable weight to play the POWs. But in addition to looking convincingly emaciated, they also have a solid chemistry that makes viewers care deeply if they find their freedom. “Rescue Dawn” is one of those rare films where ‘esprit de corps’ feels like more than a cliché.

If you’ve only known Steve Zahn from comedies like “Saving Silverman,” you’ll be shocked how well he handles heavier material. His Duane is a more practically-minded than Dengler and proves a powerful counterweight to the latter’s dreaming.

Herzog’s handling of the scenario is almost ideal. He can elicit viewer sympathy for Dengler and his compatriots without ever stooping to gaudy theatrics. He doesn’t dwell on the torture, but he knows how to make viewers sense the horror without going overboard.

When the guards attack, Herzog emphasizes the casual nature of their atrocities instead of the gore. Viscerally, it’s a wise move because several viewers in my section jumped out of their chairs even though the action was obscured in the frame.

In his previous movies like “Augirre: The Wrath of God,” Herzog made the jungle more of a character than a backdrop. In “Rescue Dawn,” the luscious scenery seems to taunt Dengler’s group and makes their quest seem like a trip through Dante’s world instead of a place in this one.

While much of “Rescue Dawn” is fictionalized, Herzog’s presentation thrives on a “did they really do that?” verisimilitude. On second thought, go see the film because it proves that thinking people can have fun at the movies, too.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 07/26/07 22:53:48
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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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