Released by MGM
Release Date: July 27th, 2007
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, and François Chau
Written by Werner Herzog
Directed by Werner Herzog
Rated PG-13 (some sequences of intense war violence and torture)
Herzog is known for his feud with his long time lead actor Klaus Kinski. Watch the movie Fitzcarldo and the watch the documentary Burden of Dreams to see what I am talking about. Herzog is a master filmmaker, but he is a bit crazy as well. In his movie Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans (and yes you read that correctly, the movie as two subtitles), Nicolas Cage has a guy shoot another guy, then tells him to shoot him again. When the man asks why because the man is clearly dead, Cage responds that the man's soul is still dancing. The camera then pans over to where the body is, only now where see a man break dancing. It is a genius scene, but it is also incredibly crazy. This is the type of director Herzog is. You question what he puts in his movie, but in the end the decisions he makes actually make sense.
Now I guess I should talk about Rescue Dawn because that is why you are reading this. Rescue Dawn is a 2007 movie that tells the story of Dieter Dengler, who is captured by the Vietcong, after his plane is hit by something during a bombing run in Laos. Dengler is taken to a small prison camp in the middle of the jungle where he meets other POWs. He becomes close to an inmate named Duane (played by Steve Zahn) and convinces the other inmates that they need to escape. The group comes up with a plan and set a date, only to have the date moved up after they find out that the prison guards plan on killing them.
The prison escape happens about halfway though the movie. The back half is Dengler and Duane trying their best to survive in a land they know nothing about. This portion of the movie is tense and suspenseful. We have as much of an idea of what is around the corner as the characters do. Dengler and Duane do everything they can to survive and find their way to Thailand, but they hit many obstacles. They find a river and make a raft, then come very close to becoming the victim of a waterfall. They carry around a few guns for the majority of the journey, but then decide to ditch them because they would do more harm then good. The journey is hard on them and us as well.
Herzog is very familiar with this material. Ten years before the release of Rescue Dawn, Herzog made a documentary called Little Deiter Needs to Fly, in which the real Dieter Dengler recounts the events that are told in this movie. It is kind of weird to see a documentary that is so close to the actual person and then see a fictionalized version of that same story. I know that it happens all the time, but it very rare that both movies would be made by the same director.
The real surprise here, though, is Steve Zahn as Duane. Up to this point is his career, Zahn was known for his comedic roles. He had done a few dramatic roles here and there, but nothing that really stood out. I remember that when it was announced that Zahn would play a role in this movie, there were a lot of people saying that he was completely wrong for the role. I was one of them. I know admit that I was wrong. Zahn perfectly plays a man who is slowly going insane. During the back half of the movie, Zahn has to go through am extreme range of emotions and handles it so well that he should have been nominated for an Oscar.
The cinematography is gorgeous. Almost every shot in this movie is something that you could hang on your wall. Everything from a mudslide to a trip down a river is just beautiful. I like that Herzog made the movie so beautiful. It is a complete juxtaposition to what the characters are going through that it gives the movie a completely different level of thought.