The latest from famed director Werner Herzog ("Grizzly Man", "Aguirre, Wrath of God") focuses on Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), one of a few survivors who escaped from POW camps during the Vietnam war. Herzog previously told Denger's story in his famed doc "Little Dieter Needs to Fly" and now tells it again in this drama.
As the movie begins, Dengler and other soldiers are instructed to go on a top-secret mission over Laos. However, things don't go according to plan, as Dengler goes on a bombing run only to have his plane be shot down. While he gets out of the wrecked plane and manages to avoid his persuers through the jungle, it's only a matter of time before he's tracked down and captured.
As the weeks go on, his treatment only becomes more brutal and oppressive, including one scene where he's dragged through the dusty streets. Still, battered and bruised, his spirit remains unbroken and his mind continues to try and plan a way out of his predicament. Once he's tossed in a cell near including Dwight (Steve Zahn - probably the last person you'd expect to see in this movie, but excellent playing a character who has gone off the rails) and Gene (Jeremy Davies), his plan starts to come into play. However, one of his new cellmates isn't so sure he wants to let Dieter escape and possibly get them all killed.
"Rescue Dawn" doesn't have much in the way of action (it's the anti-"Behind Enemy Lines") and yet, the picture is exceptionally tense and involving thanks to the choice to stay towards realism. There's no swift, sleek camera moves and quick edits here, and the haunting, magnificent score remains powerful, yet unintrusive. Herzog's film also uses the dense jungle well, giving the picture a feeling of dread and isolation. The film also does an excellent job handling the story's gradual build towards the escape as the prisoners realize that the guards are getting meaner and more vicious as their supplies dwindle.
The performances are also terrific, as Steve Zahn seems to be clearly realizing he's somehow in a Werner Herzog movie, and thus has attempted to bring his best. Zahn succeeds, as does Bale (who looks a little like a young Willem Dafoe at times here), who gives a confident, commanding performance as Dieter.
A powerful survival drama that didn't get the attention it deserved, "Rescue Dawn" will hopefully get more attention on DVD.
VIDEO: "Rescue Dawn" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The screening copy of the film that was provided offered generally satisfactory image quality, with average sharpness/detail and some occasional mild artifacting and edge enhancement. However, this is still not the final copy and unfortunately, I cannot make any final comments on it, as the retail copy may offer differing image quality.
SOUND: "Rescue Dawn" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is an excellent audio presentation, with the surrounds offering a lot of nice ambient sounds, especially during the jungle sequences. Audio quality was excellent, with crisp, well-recorded effects and a full, detailed presentation of Klaus Badelt's memorable score. Dialogue also sounded clean and clear.
EXTRAS: Director Werner Herzog and interviewer Norman Hess offer a commentary for the picture. This is an excellent commentary, and all the more interesting for the fact that Herzog discusses trying to pull together one of his most expensive - if not the most expensive - project he's ever worked on. This is also the first time that the director has had to use digital effects (although infrequently in "Rescue) in his career. We also hear about the difficult conditions (moving a large production through a country where there are no freeways), the actors losing scary amounts of weight for their roles, working with actors, budget and more.
We also get four featurettes: "What Would Dieter Do?", "War Stories", "Unfinished Business: Telling Dieter's Story" and "Strength of Character". Also included are three deleted scenes (w/optional commentary), a photo gallery and trailers (although no trailer for "Rescue Dawn".)
Final Thoughts: "Rescue Dawn" is a fantastic effort from Herzog, as the picture boasts compelling performances, an involving tale and strong atmosphere. Recommended.
The Film A