Wow. I don't know what movie the marketing department watched to make the cheap, B-grade trailers for the film, but Rescue Dawn is a shockingly good and emotionally tense war drama from director Werner Herzog.
Rescue Dawn is based on the true story of Dieter Dengler, a U.S. fighter pilot who, in 1965, went on his first mission into Laos and ended up crashing behind enemy lines. He was soon captured, tortured and placed in a prison camp with a few other American soldiers, some of whom had been held in captivity for years. Determined to escape, Dieter convinces the rest to risk their lives to break free of their confinement, but the real struggle comes when they venture into the jungle deprived of food, water and much hope at all.
Based on the previews, the movie looked cheap, silly and a bit raw, but Rescue Dawn is anything but. Herzog has created a memorable and moving tale of one man's courage to defy the odds. It may not be Deer Hunter, but the movie is a sincere look into the extremely harsh trials of Mr. Dengler, both physical and mental. A combination of beautiful scenery and emotional tension, Rescue Dawn is entertaining, exciting, powerful and even funny. The third act is especially good as the characters are stretched beyond their mental limits. Herzog's capabilities really come into play here, as every shot and musical note capture what's happening in the minds of our protagonists.
Christian Bale, Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies all turn in great performances as three of the prisoners. Bale, who plays Dengler, isn't his best here, but even when he's okay he's better than most. His character is charismatic, strong and likable, and gets to work his charm quite a bit even when in the worst of situations. A scene where he flirts with a female Viet Cong soldier says it all. As for the supporting cast, Davies and Zahn are great. The role of a sniveling, awkward coward is perfect for an actor like Davies, who seems to play such characters very well. As for Zahn, a man known more for his silly comedy than his serious acting talent, finally proves that he is capable, as most of the time I didn't even recognize him as a comedian. If this isn't a breakout role for him, I don't know what is.
Rescue Dawn is a great little war drama, and it has everything a good film needs. Suspenseful, exciting and entertaining from beginning to end, it is both a physical thriller and a character study at the same time. It's odd that this film wasn't marketed to wider audiences, or released later in the year when it would get more attention. It isn't perfect by any means, but Rescue Dawn is yet another surprisingly good release to come out this summer.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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