It’s no ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or ‘Platoon’, but Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn is smart and engaging enough to be worth watching for a look at humanity and survival. Rescue Dawn is the story of Dieter Dengler, an American pilot who in 1965 crashed his plane in Laos during the Vietnam war. He was then held prisoner along with a handful of other individuals, until he led them to escape. He then had to survive the jungle during the flood season, with little to eat and no shoes, but he was eventually rescued.
The premise is simple enough, and the execution by Herzog is competent, but it does have its weakness. While Rescue Dawn may be adventurous, it is not necessarily a powerful film like Platoon. One problem for example is how the Vietcong soldiers are portrayed as dumb jerks rather than tough fighters. There is little in the way of heavy drama, tension or brutality, although it does have its moments. The characterization and acting on the other hand is superb. Christian Bale gives a strong performance, and one that is far more colorful then his portrayal of Batman with his over the top Robbie Benson type voice. The photography of the jungle is illustrious, and it really gives the viewer an idea of how hard the film crew must’ve worked. The camera is place directly in rapids, mud slides, acres of thick vines for some effective shots. Werner Herzog is a strange filmmaker, but an interesting thinker. His body of work shows a man who knows how to tell compelling stories about people. This one may not be as emotional as ‘Grizzly Man’ or as surreal as ‘The Wild Blue Yonder’, but Rescue Dawn is a story that does shine through.