JT Film Review

104 – Rescue Dawn (2006)

Rescue Dawn REVIEW

3/5 stars

Director – Werner Herzog

Cast – Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, Teerawat Mulvilai, Kriangsak Ming-olo


Rescue Dawn is a fairly decent little survival story from director Werner Herzog. It is based on the true story of Dieter Dengler, a US Navy pilot who crash-lands on his first mission in Laos (as a part of the Vietnam War) and is captured and put in a POW camp. The bulk of the film concerns his plans and finally an attempt to escape. Christian Bale stars as Dengler, and, despite Herzog’s best efforts, the movie comes dangerously close to becoming just another movie where Bale adopts an American accent and drops a lot of weight. The story,while told with sincerity and even some humour, frankly isn’t that different from most POW movies (The Great Escape, etc).

The character of Dengler is optimistic and quite a bit cheerful, even in the worst of circumstances. He firmly believes that he will be able to escape the POW camp and make his way through the jungle. The problem is that we believe him, and thus we feel no real sense of danger when he is in the wilderness fighting to survive or even when sneaking up on his guards after stealing their guns. For example, when Dengler and his friend are escaping on a raft they hear a waterfall. They get quite close to it, finally decide to jump off the raft, and they swim to shore. Cut to the waterfall thundering away as the camera pans down its full length. “Look what could have happened!” Yes, it could have. But we should have been saying “O my God, just think of what could happen!” before we are shown the falls. Instead we just see them doggy-paddling to the shore and congratulating themselves. The escape sequence is essentially just many little vignettes of such scenes.

What Rescue Dawn may lack in urgency and uniqueness it picks up in terms of its visual style and in its depiction of general minutiae of camp life and living in the jungle. We do believe that the characters are going through what they are depicting, mainly because in general they are. The leads all lost between 55 and 35 pounds each, and Christian Bale infamously eats live maggots in one scene.

It is good that the actors had such dedication to the story, but it is unfortunate that the story lets them down considerably. Everything seems taken from the Director’s Guidebook to POW Movies, from the plans to escape and the tension among the prisoners, to the brutal POW guard and the eventual rescue. Herzog really doesn’t do enough to spice these aspects up either, and his earnest depiction of the story can sometimes come across as pandering. Thankfully his long time cinematographer, Peter Zeitlenger, gives us a wonderful view of the jungle, and the realistic camera style helps keep the appropriate tone.


Rescue Dawn gets past its rather average story by the strong dedication of the cast to their characters. All the characters are fully formed (except of course, the “bad guys”, the POW guards), and the cinematography is quite pretty. However the movie feels like it could have been directed by anyone and written by anyone. Werner Herzog’s involvement seems strange, as he is known for rather personal and ambitious movies. This is neither, and with almost no tension created, it is noticeably dry. It is worth a watch for the cast, but not too much else unfortunately.



“Rescue Dawn” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia



August 19, 2010 - Posted by | 3 Stars, Film Review, Genre - War, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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