Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rescue Dawn

Originally uploaded by rattlingdjs
For some reason Werner Herzog intrigues me as a director. I cannot quite put my finger on why though other than he’s a director that is very interested in not just documentaries but in historical narratives. When I heard he was doing Rescue Dawn with Christian Bale I was incredibly intrigued but I was never able to get to the theatre to check it out.

This movie is based on the true story of pilot Dieter Dengler and based on the documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly also by Herzog. I know that some liberties were inevitably taken to translate this story to film, such as there being seven captives in reality but only six in the film; however, as best I can tell Herzog stuck to his documentary form and tried to keep Rescue Dawn as close to the real events as he possibly could. This story is about Dieter and that was Herzog’s primary concern, that the audience understand Dieter.

What Herzog chose to include in the film is a heck of a story. It begins on Dieter’s ship, just before Dieter is sent off on his first mission over Laos. He is subsequently shot down and follows orders to get rid of his radio and anything else that the Viet Cong can use against his shipmates; as a result he is unable to signal the rescue crew when they fly over his location over the next few days. Eventually Dieter is captured and put through various tortures before finally being taken to a POW camp where he meets other prisoners. Together he helps hatch a plan for their eventual escape.

The driving force of this film is Christian Bale. The only thing I can say is that he is so dang infectious in the role, as an audience member you can’t help but to like him. From opening to end all Dieter wants to do is fly and is so dang loyal to America because they gave him his wings. Bale makes Dieter a man you would follow any where, through any plan because you believe him capable of anything. He is a red-blooded American pilot which is odd as Dieter was German born and Bale is Welsh. Talk about confusing.

However, the surprise factor goes to Steve Zahn as fellow prisoner Duane. Duane is the only other soldier in the camp (the other prisoners worked for Air America) and bonds closely with Dieter. I have never seen Zahn in a dramatic role and he hits it out of the park. Comedians can truly be some of the best dramatic actors and I cannot wait to see more drama out of Zahn.

As a director, one of the most fascinating things for me when I watched Rescue Dawn was knowing that this film was shot in reverse chronological order. Because Herzog knew that the actors had to lose a lot of weight for the roles, and weight is easier to gain than to lose he shot the film starting with the end, and moved back to the beginning so that the actors could lose all of the weight and slowly gain it back through the shoot. Part of why this is so shocking for this film is because this requires your actors to start emotionally with the end of the story which in this case is the most emotionally gut wrenching part, and move slowly backwards to the opening which is much lighter and more idealistic – how the actors managed this I have no idea, but it works so incredibly well.

Director & Writer: Werner Herzog
Dieter: Christian Bale
Duane: Steve Zahn
Gene: Jeremy Davies
Squad Leader: Zach Grenier

Dieter: When I was uhh... five or somethin', I was looking out the window, with my brother... and we see this fighter plane was coming right at us. I was not scared. I was mesmerized! Because for me, this pilot was this all-mighty being from the clouds. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be him. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be a pilot.

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