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Rescue Dawn

Steve Zahn and Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

GERMAN filmmaker Werner Herzog has already told the story of downed US fighter pilot Dieter Dengler in his acclaimed documentary Little Dieter Needs To Fly.

But he returns to the subject matter in feature film form with Rescue Dawn, a no-less absorbing tale of survival against the odds that provides Christian Bale with another impressive performance.

Dengler (Bale) was an American pilot of German origin who was shot down in Laos in the early stages of the Vietnam War. Captured behind enemy lines, he was subsequently held prisoner in a POW camp in the middle of the jungle and forced to endure extreme conditions.

Defiantly, Dengler rallied his fellow prisoners (including Steve Zahn’s Duane and Jeremy Davies’ Gene) to mount an escape and then faced another desperate fight for survival against the elements.

Rescue Dawn marks Herzog’s first proper American feature but it shares plenty in common with many of his earlier films, such as Aguirre, Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, in placing determined men at the centre of harsh environments.

As such, it’s pretty gruelling viewing, especially during the POW camp scenes and subsequent escape even though Herzog deliberately doesn’t dwell on any violence or torture (a refreshing change).

Rather, he prefers to look at how men cope under such intense psychological pressure and is rewarded with some sterling work from his cast.

Bale will doubtless take the plaudits for immersing himself in yet another role that requires a dramatic amount of weight loss but he’s more than matched by co-star Steve Zahn, whose dedication to the cause is no less impressive. The two display a strong camaraderie that makes their escape attempt all the more involving.

The two display a relatable camaraderie that makes their escape attempt all the more involving.

That’s not to say the movie isn’t without flaws – audiences suffering from war fatigue caused by the current glut of Iraq-based movies may not fancy the subject matter, especially since much of it has been done before.

While ardent Herzog fans may lament some of the more commercial touches, especially during the latter scenes. At just over two hours, the film also feels too long.

But if you have the endurance and stamina for the journey, then Herzog’s distinct filmmaking technique and the performances of Bale and Zahn still provide plenty to admire.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs 5mins
UK DVD Release: April 7, 2008