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"Rescue Dawn"

Directed by Werner Herzog.
Written by Werner Herzog.  Based on the real-life experience of Dieter Dengler.
Starring Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, and Jeremy Davies.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  6/27/07


The POW film is one that probably doesn't need any more additions into its very niche place on the proverbial shelf; this, however, did not stop Werner Herzog (who directed the popular documentary "Grizzly Man" a few years ago) from filming the POW experience of USAF pilot Dieter Dengler for his newest film "Rescue Dawn", a film that is at times just as painful as Dengler's experience in a Laotian POW camp in 1965.

Dengler (played well by Christian Bale) is a German-born man who was naturalized in the US; for his first sortie in 'Nam on a classified mission, a bombing run over Laos goes bad and Dengler is shot down and forced to find his way to the Thailand border on his own, which naturally doesn't quite work out that way.  Over the course of many weeks and months, Dengler is made a prisoner at a small camp in Laos with a few other US citizens and Asian defectors, including another USAF pilot named Duane (Steve Zahn, who apparently lost 40 pounds to play this character and it shows) and a group of Air America correspondents that includes a near-psycho named Gene (Jeremy Davies, all growed up after his work from "Saving Private Ryan" almost ten years ago).  Dengler doesn't have long-term plans to stay in the camp, so he organizes the five other inmates to hatch a plan to overtake their captors and try to find their way out.

The film's biggest problem is truly its best asset--watching the day-to-day suffering of men with no hope at a distant camp far from any chance at rescue.  The actors seemed to really embrace being put through their paces as people who only woke up to get tortured, eat maggots, sit in the hot South Asia sun and then sleep in shackles while regularly shitting themselves because they don't have access to a bathroom.  This helps put in perspective what life might have been like for a real-life prisoner of war...but, as a movie, it also means nearly 130 minutes of torture for the viewer, because for about 80% of the film, the guys are just sitting at the camp, devising not-so-cool-or-ingenious ways to break out of camp and clueing us in on how they'll do it.  Man, this is a tough sit!  Luckily, Bale and Zahn are pretty good and inject the occasional funny moment to keep things relatively interesting...

...but, the film completely derails over the final act, as we watch Bale & friends try to break out and then in doing so, are put through even more torture as they try to navigate the rough jungle terrain.  Watching Bale hack through underbrush with a machete so poor it even LOOKS like a movie prop had my friend Jessica openly wondering why Bale even took this job; far from the bright lights of a "Batman Begins" sequel or "The Prestige", you give a guy credit for going indie, but THIS indie?  And, at times, as good as Bale is, his stab at playing a gringo goes over as a bit stiff at times, a bit melodramatic (more the script's doing than his own), and some unintentional comedy moments, when he is screaming at choppers flying a half-mile overhead.

But, I'm glad I saw "Rescue Dawn" because I was intrigued by the trailer...but, let's just say this is no "The Bridge on the River Kwai", the great Alec Guinness POW flick from a million years ago.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09