Autumn 2007 Edge series
Sunday, October 28, 2007 at 4:00pm
Sunday, October 28, 2007 at 7:00pm
Directed by Werner Herzog
Starring Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, and Jeremy Davies
Rated 14A ·
Werner Herzog is one of the greatest, most prolific and controversial masters of modern cinema. He has taken several of his favourite themes — the challenging of physical and spiritual boundaries, the battle between man and nature, and between man and himself — and infused them, almost obsessively, into his body of work. His documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) told the extraordinary story of a German-born American Navy pilot, Dieter Dengler, who crash-landed in Laos during the Vietnam War. He was imprisoned in a POW camp and brutally tortured before he engineered an extraordinary escape with the other inmates. He was finally rescued by United States helicopters that happened to fly over the area.
Herzog has now returned to this story, crafting a dramatic reconstruction in the utterly unique Rescue Dawn. Christian Bale (The New World) plays Dengler and it is one of this accomplished actor’s most breathtaking performances. From all-American wisecracker to beaten-down victim, to Messianic, rifle-toting outlaw, Bale inhabits his character with a fierce and passionate intensity recalling the similarly riveting performances of Herzog’s previous leading man, Klaus Kinski. Overall, the film’s survivalist snarl, its intense anti-heroism, Dengler’s Sisyphean attempts to overcome predatory Mother Nature and Herzog’s abiding love of freakish wise men figures recall many of the filmmaker’s earlier masterpieces.
Bale is matched step for step by a group of accomplished character actors, including the wonderful Steve Zahn (Hamlet) and Jeremy Davies (Dogville) as fellow POWs. The camerawork is characteristically stunning, although perhaps simpler and more direct than in Herzog’s past films. This clarity actually is a blessing. It allows us to quickly intuit Herzog’s motives for making the film at this historical moment; Rescue Dawn is set during the Vietnam War, but it could easily be transplanted to a modern-day setting. Relentlessly focused on Dengler’s harrowing experiences and his fascinating eccentricities, the film is one of the most unique entries into the pantheon of contemporary war films.