BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
SEPTEMBER 19, 2010
Nothing quite makes you rethink the way things work, like seeing someone’s head severed from their body. That is just one of the gruesome scenes depicted in Werner Herzog’s “based on a true story” war-mongering film “Rescue Dawn.” Christian Bale plays the leading role of Dieter Dengler, who is the Owen Wilson to “Behind Enemy Lines.” During active duty in Vietnam, Dieter unwittingly gets lost in the danger-filled wilderness, eventually forced into the life of a P.O.W. with the likes of Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies. It is in the camp where he saves not only himself but all those taken prisoners.
The true-to-life aspect of the film is horrific when you sit down to ponder it. Imagine sitting down with the real Dieter Dengler and hearing first person these cataclysmic events. Herzog effectively translates these events and displays them for everyone to see and interpret. Though actual parties involved with the war detest certain aspects, Herzog takes complete control of creative license and produces a beautiful piece of cinematic history. “Behind Enemy Lines” loses its realistic feel with the constant cutting back and forth between the elusive Owen Wilson and the watch tower-like Gene Hackman. However, Christian Bale and Herzog cling to the one-sided journey of the captured, making the audience wonder if Bale will ever actually get rescued.
“Rescue Dawn” is unlike any of Herzog’s recent films, like “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” and “My Son My Son What Have Ye Done.”
Both have strong characteristics present only in a Herzog film, for example, focusing on the film’s animals, whether prominent or not, and allowing them ample time over the actual human characters of the film. “Rescue Dawn” is void of this and many of Herzog’s other coined traits. This vacuity makes you wonder whether “Rescue Dawn” existed solely to be a box office hit, not a stylish art house film like many of Herzog’s ventures. “Rescue Dawn” strikingly comes off like Francis Ford Coppola’s paragon, “Apocalypse Now,” delving the audience into a world they do not entirely understand, nor that the characters understand, as they trod along relentlessly. Even the dark feel of the film sheers through its big-budget bravado.
Christian Bale proves why he is the big name that he has become today with the renewed “Batman” franchise and “Terminator: Salvation” currently under his belt. On his own, Bale carries a muster that invests an audience into him fully. Bale also has an aura of confidence that eases you into believing he can accomplish the giant feats placed at his feet with competence and believability. Even in group scenes, Bale sticks out as the more established actor. That statement aside, Steve Zahn delivers a performance divergent from his previous roles. With films like “Saving Silverman” and “Strange Wilderness,” both mediocre comedies, delivering this astounding performance is rather impressive. Jeremy Davies also effectively matches Christian Bale’s semblance as the reluctant P.O.W., so unready to leave the life of the captured that he is unwilling to escape at Bale’s command.
Though “Rescue Dawn” screams big budget film, in the summer of 2007, I heard very little about the film. Whether it was due to Bale’s lack of big-budget movies at the time or Herzog’s off-kilter directing that ultimately masked the film’s debut, having viewed the film much later, it deserves more credit than that which preceded it. “Rescue Dawn” proves that even before “Batman Begins” and “Terminator: Salvation,” Herzog was conditioning Christian Bale for the role of the hero. Perhaps we would have a completely different Christian Bale had he never collaborated with Herzog. Both continue a very enjoyable lineage with “Rescue Dawn,” proving they both deserve the positions they currently hold in the industry.
July 27, 2007
(for some sequences of intense war violence and torture)