Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rescue Dawn (2006)

Werner Herzog knows how to shoot films in the jungle. Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Cobra Verde (1987) are sufficient to classify him as the King of the Jungle Movies. Another thing he is also good at is portraying a character that is irredeemably at odds with his environment (I'm specifically using the male gender here). Just look at the magnificent Woyzeck and not-so-magnificent Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (both 1979). What is also crucial about these films is that they all featured the inimitable Klaus Kinski in the titular roles. Christian Bale is not Klaus Kinski, but he comes very close in capturing the captured Air Force pilot, Dieter Dengle - so much so that, he is a refreshing take on an actor-becoming-the-character.

During a classified mission in Laos, before the official start of the Vietnam War, Bale's plane falls in the jungle. After being captured by the Laotian soldiers and subjected to torture, he is transferred to a POW camp. There he meets two fellow Americans (Steve Zahn and an incredibly thin Jeremy Davis - who is, by the way, Klaus Kinski of he film) and three South Vietnamese prisoners. After assuming leadership, he encourages them to escape.

The scenes in the camp are done very elegantly. There aren't any gruesome torture scenes, but we see friendships and enmities forming very slowly. When the escape doesn't work out as planned, Zahn and Bale stick together and make their way through the jungle together, where more peril awaits them.

Emotionally Rescue Dawn is very satisfying. The shots, as always with Herzog, are masterly. Every tracking shot is intricately woven into another. With the exception of Davis's overacting, Zahn and, especially, Bale give excellent performances. Bale and Davis, in fact, go to extreme method shenanigans at certain points. However, the ending is too corny for comfort. Also the Top Gun-esque banter between the pilots at the beginning feels too artificial.

Despite some of the issues at the bookends, Rescue Dawn is a film with fantastic imagery, good acting, and some very tense moments.

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