Published Jul 05, 2007Escape movies rely on that inevitable payoff at the end. Audiences arent going to boo the guy who went through two hours of hell, busted out and shoved it down the prickly wardens throat. Its 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 Herzogs 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 couldnt afford to lose.
Dieter Denglers story, profiled in Herzogs 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs To Fly, is harrowing and straightforward no bells and whistles, computer graphics or Jessica Biel necessary. Dieters 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 Herzogs esoteric choices. Somehow Rescue Dawn, produced curiously enough by NBA all-star Elton Brands 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)