Nine years after creating a documentary on Dieter Dengler and his experiences in Vietnam, Wenrer Herzog crafts Rescue Dawn. Christian Bale takes on the role of the captive pilot, dragged through war-torn areas of Laos until he’s imprisoned in a small camp. His efforts to escape, constant rebellious attitude, and eventual run for freedom make for gripping cinema.
Editing is the early hurdle for Rescue Dawn. It’s hard to be become involved when the film takes on a random, disjointed feel. The cuts are hard, and it’s almost impossible at times to figure out where the character is or how he ended up there.
Filmed in Thailand, Dawn is gorgeous. The cinematography is wonderful and not overdone. Bale takes a beating for this role, constantly tossed into the country's mud, dumped into water, and spun upside down with an ant nest on his face. The PG-13 rating denies audiences (for the better likely) the harsher torture Dengler would endure as told in Herzog’s Little Dieter Needs to Fly.
The supporting cast, made up of Vietnamese and other captured soldiers, is superb. The conflict created by Dengler’s recent capture makes every scene gripping. In spite of having been there for over two years, some captives firmly believe they’ll be let go and refuse to go along with any escape plans.
When the plan does go into effect and Dengler manages to escape with his life, the harrowing journey he faces to make it out of the jungle is equally engrossing. Steve Zahn is his only help, starved and ill, barely able to stand. Even as Zahn’s character begins to slowly fade into insanity, Dengler never lets go.
The story of Dengler’s Vietnamese experience is spectacular enough, and in film form, it’s involving cinema. Viewing of Herzog’s documentary isn’t necessary, but may make it easier to understand the occasional humorous tone of the characters, trying to make the best out of a desperate situation. Rescue Dawn is spectacular and overlooked, deserving of a wide audience.
A beautiful, sharp transfer greets viewers from the moment they pop in this disc. Colors are stunning, the lush greens of the forests preserved flawlessly in the digital format. Compression is kept under control even when the tones are at their brightest. Detail is preserved in both daylight and the dim rooms inside the camp.
There is only minor action throughout, the audio thus focusing on immersion inside the jungle environment. There is constant audio bombardment from all five channels in terms of animal calls and leaves rustling. When the action does kick in, including the crash landing, bass is powerful. Audio becomes a subtle yet essential part of the film.
A commentary is led by Herzog, though it seems more like an interview as questions are delivered by Norman Hill. Three deleted scenes offer up some violence cut from the final film, most of which would have placed this firmly in the R-rated category. Finally, a documentary is split into multiple sections, totaling 45 minutes. It’s involving and detailed.
Those looking for historical accuracy will be annoyed that certain aspects of Dengler’s story were left out. He was captured twice, escaping both times, and this is never even mentioned in the film. That’s what the documentary is for.