Another Vietnam film? It's okay, this one's rather good..
, 10 Jan 2008
With so little attention payed to this film it's surprising how well it actually did upon it's release in the US, and disappointing that it got such small exposure upon it's release here in Britain. Likely you haven't heard of 'Rescue Dawn' or have only seen a few posters scattered around. Don't let this fool you - this is a film that is well worth watching, especially if you have enjoyed other films based in and around the Vietnam war.
We start off in a Top Gun-esque scenario, with the pilots joking and preparing for their secret bombing mission in Laos. This is the very start of the Vietnam War, at a point where many believed it was going to be an easy ride and long before the cynicism and anger had taken over. But when one of the pilots, Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), is shot down he is quickly taken prisoner and held with another five men in a makeshift prison camp.
Bale brilliantly plays a man who clearly has no idea how serious the situation is and really has no appreciation for how long he may be imprisoned. When he meets his fellow captives his shock at finding out they have been incarcerated for years already, is a suitable reminder that this is an idealistic young man that 'just wanted to fly'.
The performances throughout the film are outstanding, particularly from Mr. Bale, who repeats his starvation look from 'The Machinist', though it's not quite as extreme ('Recue Dawn' was in fact shot backwards as it's easier to gain weight than lose it, so all the actors started filming with skeletal frames). The other players also do outstanding work as his fellow inmates, varying from paranoid to resigned, and all clearly fighting the urge to hope that they may be able to escape with this new arrival.
The visuals in 'Rescue Dawn' also must be mentioned as they are breathtaking. Filmed in Vietnam, Werner Herzog has done a wonderful job of capturing the beauty of the forests, as well as showing how vast they are and as a consequence terrifying to cross.
Sadly the film is not without it's faults - the major one being that though this is 'based' on a true story you really feel that you're not getting the whole picture. Dieter seems too perfect and never seems to doubt or question his actions or motives, and his responses at times feel like an idealised version of what actually happened. Despite Bale's impressive performance you still wish he could be given a little leeway to really get into the feelings such a terrifying situation would cause.
Despite minor problems 'Rescue Dawn' is a highly watchable movie and has you rooting for Dieter from the get go. Though it's not as strong as other Vietnam films, it certainly takes it's place alongside them and can hold it's head high in their company.
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