Saturday, July 26, 2008

#28: Rescue Dawn


Rescue Dawn
Directed by Werner Herzog
Written by Werner Herzog (based on a true story)
Released July 27, 2007

Bale-fest continues, though you must believe me when I say that I hadn't intended on taking in yet another of the actor's movies so early into this 365 movie run. If it hadn't been for the fact that the copy of the George C. Scott dark comedy The Hospital that Netflix sent this week was cracked in half, I was going to save this one for later. At least another week. This flick came to my not by way of the movie rental juggernaut, but through the codes on the lids of bottles of Diet Pepsi that I've been collecting as of late.

Based on information already presented in director Werner Herzog's 1997 documentary, Little Dieter needs to Fly, Rescue Dawn tells the story of German-American Navy pilot Dieter Dengler, who was shot down in Laos during an early (and classified) bombing mission at the beginnings of the Vietnam war. Dengler was only 40 minutes into his first flying mission.

One of the most notable aspects of Dengler's personality -- his unwavering optimism -- comes to the forefront early on, when Dengler refuses to eject from his plane during his crash. This optimism remains in him throughout his ordeal, from his torture to his imprisonment with a small group of hostages in a detainment camp, where he dreams up a potentially deadly plan for escape.

Bale once again delivers an impressive performance, speaking in a more believable American accent than he is usually capable of, while dropping over 30 pounds for the role. Anyone who has ever seen his incredible performance in the ultra-creepy The Machinist surely knows how far this guy will go to physically embody his characters.

Almost more impressive than Bale are his cohorts in the imprisonment camp, especially the always off kilter Jeremy Davies (Saving Private Ryan, Spanking the Monkey) and Steve Zahn, who has been squandering his significant talents for years in shitty movies like Strange Wilderness, Bandidas and Sahara. Zahn's performance as Duane Martin is the true center of the picture, balancing Dengler's overwhelming optimism with his fight to keep from deteriorating and giving up. Dengler's arrival in the camp comes just at the right time, giving him a newfound determination to escape, or at the very least, persevere.

Rescue Dawn is Herzog's most financially successful film, which was probably helped by the fact that it is also the consummate director's most accessible and hopeful. Of course, given the subject matter, the movie and its ending are more aptly described as "bittersweet" instead of "happy." I will say that I never thought that the sight of one man giving another man a Butterfinger candy bar was an image that would bring a tear to my eye.

For more on Rescue Dawn:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia
- The IMDB page for Little Dieter Needs to Fly
- An interview with Herzog on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross
- The official move site

The trailer, from YouTube:

No comments: