Rescue Dawn Werner Herzog

Rescue Dawn Werner Herzog
Escape movies rely on that inevitable payoff at the end. Audiences aren’t going to boo the guy who went through two hours of hell, busted out and shoved it down the prickly warden’s throat. It’s an easy formula but every so often comes redemption of Shawshank proportions, like Rescue Dawn, an escape epic where the catharsis is actually earned.

It was earned on days of torturous shooting in the majestic jungles of Thailand. On sweaty afternoons when Werner Herzog’s perfectionism nearly inspired Christian Bale to kill him, and when the 64-year-old filmmaker risked his life removing a ticking explosive from a set the modest production couldn’t afford to lose.

Dieter Dengler’s story, profiled in Herzog’s 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs To Fly, is harrowing and straightforward — no bells and whistles, computer graphics or Jessica Biel necessary. Dieter’s plane is shot down over Laos at the beginning of the Vietnam War. He spends years fighting to escape the vicious POW camp and dense jungle in a delirious attempt at salvation.

Action enthusiasts will love the gritty, involving story but fans of soft focus art films will be won over by Herzog’s esoteric choices. Somehow Rescue Dawn, produced curiously enough by NBA all-star Elton Brand’s new company, delivers both a stylised Herzog effort and a marketable summer movie starring the most recent Batman.

Steve Zahn, as a fellow POW, gives an Oscar-worthy performance, with his light blue eyes glazed over, his voice gentle and nearly mad. There is one false touch though: the other inmates are emaciated, even big star Bale returns close to his skeletal The Machinist form, but Zahn is never seen without his uniform, apparently unable to drop the 50-plus pounds necessary. (MGM)