DVD of the Week – Review of Rescue Dawn (2007)
by HELEN GEIB
Rescue Dawn performed reasonably well at the box office on the art-house circuit, but didn’t manage to successfully break into the multiplex market on its theatrical release. I hope it will find that general audience on DVD instead. It’s a powerful and affecting biopic of Dieter Dengler, a German-American pilot shot down in Laos early in the Vietnam War.
The film recounts the period of his imprisonment in a detention camp and his escape. Grim subject matter, certainly, but not a grim film. Dengler was an irrepressible personality. His unshakable, almost pathological confidence and optimism suffuse the film, carrying the audience through every punch to the gut and hit to the heart.
My guess as to why Rescue Dawn didn’t play well at the multiplex is that people were put off by the Vietnam War POW storyline, expecting that meant a film that was depressing or politically charged, and probably both. In actuality, the movie is uplifting and apolitical. It is not really even about the Vietnam War. The war is important to the film only in the way that it shaped the circumstances of this remarkable episode in Dengler’s life; if he had been a Navy pilot interred at a Japanese POW camp during WWII, this would be in all essentials the same film. Rescue Dawn is fundamentally a triumph of the human spirit character drama about a charismatic and eccentric man.
Christian Bale gives a commanding performance as Dengler, in a difficult role that casts him as the dramatic focus of every scene in the movie. Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies give able supporting performances as the other American prisoners at the camp. Rescue Dawn is very well directed by Werner Herzog, and the strikingly effective orchestral score is by Klaus Badelt.