In 1965, America was secretly bombing Laos. As Rescue Dawn (2006) opens, we see the bombing as an operatic fireworks display in slow motion.
Based on Werner Herzog's documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997), Herzog remade the same true tale as a fact-based work of fiction starring Christian Bale as German-American fighter pilot Dieter Dengler, in a war story that shows us pretty much what Dieter personally told us in the documentary.
Humor & realism mark the first act. Visually Herzog has created the most beautiful & strange version of Viet Nam since Apocalypse Now (1979). The color-palette of the film is subtly shifted into startling greens & blues, adding a garish other-worldliness.
Dieter's first mission gets him shot down over enemy territory. A very matter-of-fact narrative allows us to follow Dieter through his evasioin on the ground of the Viet Cong; his capture; & his maltreatment among other prisoners of war.
Loony prisoners in a stockade provide a veritable carnival of terrors. They're bone-thin, completely out of their minds, with their captors no more sane than themselves.
We've seen all this before, in films like The Deer Hunter (1978), but the characters here are unique & weirdly heroic & do not rely on usual stereotypes about the Viet Nam War & those who fought in it.
Profoundly suspenseful as they formulate a desparate escape plan, we don't want to see even one of these people die. We even care for one of the captors, the dwarf Jumbo (Kriangsak Ming-olo). Cowardice & fear entwine with courage in unsettling ways. Deiter & Duane (Steve Zahn) are persued in the jungle, facing perils that are heartbreakingly sad.
Apocalypse Now & The Killing Fields (1984) are probably the only two films about this region of strife that equal Rescue Dawn, & say what you will about Christian Bale as a faulty human being, he's done a superb acting job at the very height of a performer's art.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl