Documentarian Werner Herzog revisits Little Dieter unnecessarily in this fiction version starring Christian Bale

Rescue Dawn

on July 06, 2007 by Barbara Goslawski
In Rescue Dawn, director Werner Herzog returns to familiar territory only to find that he has already mined its depths. The renowned film artist reverts to a favorite setting, the jungle, found in such earlier masterpieces as Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre: The Wrath of God, but gone is the crazed and brilliant madman who battles its oppressive elements. Moreover, Herzog squanders the thematic, metaphoric and even symbolic promise of his setting by abandoning his sweeping lyrical style in favor of a more clinical one, perhaps due to the fact that his latest film is the narrative companion to his 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly.

Christian Bale plays American Navy pilot Dieter Dengler, who crashes in the jungles of Laos in the early days of the Vietnam War during a secret mission. The greater part of the film focuses on his ordeal as a POW and his equally tortuous days as an escapee unwittingly trapped by the elements. Bale plays his character with much bravado, which explains his resilience under such extreme pressures but eventually becomes a tiresome old macho stereotype that nonetheless still falls short of the larger-than-life character needed to be a believable adversary to Herzog's all-powerful Mother Nature.

In an age when the United States is involved in countless secret missions, Herzog may have intended Rescue Dawn as a metaphor, but it is an empty one. The audience receives no new insights into the horrors of war and no answers to its ever-present conundrum. Instead, the film presents one man's story of survival in all its gory details. Dieter's determination and fast thinking is inspiring, but in Herzog's hands Rescue Dawn remains simply a litany of abuses bestowed by man and nature. Distributor: MGM
Cast: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies
Director/Screenwriter: Werner Herzog
Producers: Steve Marlton & Elton Brand
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of intense war violence and torture
Running time: 120 min.
Release Date: July 4, 2007 NY/LA/Torn, July 13 exp
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