Thursday, July 26, 2007

Rescue Dawn

Werner Herzog | 2007 | 126 min | USA

A movie that's based on a true story is usually a movie to avoid. When the movie is written and directed by Werner Herzog however, and even more, a retelling of one his best documentaries (Little Deiter Needs to Fly), you buy your ticket and pray for the best.

Rescue Dawn may not be the best film that it could be, but it's a pretty great one regardless. If you don't know, Rescue Dawn is the story of Deiter Dengler, a navy pilot whose plane crashed in enemy territory during a top secret bombing of Vietnam in 1966. It's a film that could very easily have been an over the top tale of hope and courage, with an Oscar bait lead performance by Christian Bale, but Herzog and Bale don't go that route.

What makes this such a good film is that it's not structured around a character arc. It's built around action. Very little emotion is let in. We simply follow Deiter, moment to moment, often with a documentary camera style which allows us to be more in awe of the story rather than the usual pathetic attempts at emotional manipulation that come with "true story" films. It's full of tasteful restraint that's lovely to watch. Bale's performance is a great reproduction of the real life Deiter's mannerism and speech, but isn't concerned with big moments. He's quiet when the scene calls for it. Bale doesn't attempt to chew scenery for even a moment. It's a real treat. Every moment of emotion from him feels real.

The scenery would be a lot for anyone to even attempt to chew up though, to be fair. Herzog is no stranger to stories of men who are dwarfed by their surroundings, but who are able to overcome. The jungles and mountains of Vietnam provide an absolutely stunning backdrop for the story, and it's filmed beautifully without being too showy.

After Deiter is captured in Vietnam, he's taken to a P.O.W. camp, where he becomes friends with the other half dozen prisoners there. There's where the film starts to stumble ever so slightly. Steve Zhan and Jeremy Davies play the prisoners who Bale works off of the most, and they deliver good performances, but they feel actor-y, and the film was free of that up until that point. Had their roles been played by unknowns, or non-actors, it would have improved the film considerably, and removed most of the artifice present. Any attempts they may have made to steal the film from Bale are pointless. The subtlety of Bale's performance is what makes the movie as good as it is. By time the film's hilarious uplifting ending rolled around, I forgave it completely. I'd watched Deiter endure enough to allow him his fairy tale ending. Well... a strange military take on a fairy tale ending.


Anonymous said...

Laos. It's set in Laos.

aaron said...

you think youre smarter than us?!

Anonymous said...

Just more worldly, and you know it's true.