Rescue Dawn (2006)
Reviewed on 2008 January 14
This is based on the account of Lt. Dieter Dengler, a U.S. Navy pilot that crashed and was captured during a Vietnam black ops mission in Laos. We learn in the opening shots this story is based on his story; between that and the title we know he made it. The next 126 minutes tell how he survived.
We’re introduced to Dengler (Christian Bale) and one of his buddies while they’re laughing at a film showing soldiers how to survive in the jungle. The buddy is jeering at the heavy-handed delivery of the information and Dengler just seems to think he’s charmed and he’ll never need it. His plane is soon shot down, and he’s captured. He decides that he will escape, no matter what. Everything seems against him and he refuses to give up.
I was surprised to learn that Warner Herzog directed this. He did a great job of depicting the horrors Dengler endured without making it so horrible I had to stop watching. (I can handle fake blood and guts just fine but knowing it’s something some poor soul actually endured makes me squeamish.) Parts are still hard to sit through — the nest was just… who would even think of that? Christian Bale conveyed Dengler’s strength and optimism without being a pollyanna, and even though he’s Welsh he did it while using a very realistic Midwestern accent. (Thin as he is naturally, he also lost the equivalent body weight of a toddler to do this. I won’t fuss about commuting any more.) The biggest surprise was Steve Zahn, realistically portraying a POW down to the haunted eyes. He was very good in Riding in Cars with Boys, but this is a whole new level of acting.
Three chocolate morsels.