War movies have visited all war nuances over and over again thorough cinema history. War events have been always an excellent excuse for filmmakers to either praise or condemn. Most of these movies focus on the tragedies of war which reach epic connotations when they are based or inspired on true events. In particular, Vietnam War has served as an infinite source of stories to cinema because of its impact on the United States, a conflict full of shades both on American and Vietnamese soil. the deer hunter, apocalypse now and platoon are good examples of this long term relationship between the Vietnam War and cinema. rescue dawn goes back to the Second Indochina War but using a slightly different approach that will please some and displease other.
Werner Herzog other than for his interesting relationship with his sometimes friend Klaus Kinski, who starred in five of his productions, is well known for the controversy of his movies and documentaries, genre that he has successfully visited multiple times. Before rescue dawn he had previously recreated Dieter’s ordeal, with Dieter Dengler himself, in the documentary little dieter need to fly, made in 1997. This documentary and the legacy that Dieter, who died in 2001, left on the filmmaker were undoubtedly the seed of this movie.
In 1966 Lieutenant Dieter Dengler is sent on a secret mission to Laos. His plane is hit by anti-aircraft fire and forced to crash-land in Laotian soil. This and his immediate imprisonment by members of Pathet Lao, the Laotian branch of the Vietnamese communists, is the starting point of Dieter’s quest for survival.
Christian Bale’s characterization of Dieter Dengler is solid. He is able to transmit Dieter’s endless hope for survival even in the most adverse conditions. Being the movie more about Dieter himself rather than about the episode it tells, most of the thread falls on Bale, whose performance is up to what is expected from him. Jeremy Davies’ and Steve Zahn’s performances as prisoners as well are, although far from Bale’s one complexity, also convincing.
Unfortunately many will dislike the fact that the movie is shot as if it was a documentary. It is as if Herzog were following Dieter’s steps from the beginning to the end of the episode when it happened. This means that will not make any judgment on any of the decisions taken by the characters or even the episode itself, that is left to the viewer. The pace of the movie is slow and the action short, in the line of war movies such as the thin red line. Although again, this is a movie about Dieter and his instinct for survival in a beautiful landscape, it was shot in Thailand, rather than a war movie.
Three last thoughts. Why the movie if most was already said on the documentary? Why the last scene? Was he really that comfortable about life and death?
For the deadhours of those who would like to be in the reality show survivor.