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RESCUE DAWN

Director: WERNER HERZOG

U.S.A. • 2006 • COLOUR • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 126 MIN


WERNER HERZOG’S FIRST AMERICAN FEATURE DRAMATISES AN AMERICAN PILOT’S DARING REAL-LIFE EXPLOITS DURING THE VIETNAM CONFLICT, BUT THE DIRECTOR’S FORMIDABLE COMMITMENT TO AUTHENTICITY TYPICALLY BLURS THE LINE BETWEEN HEROIC SAGA AND DOCUMENTARY INTENSITY.

Christian Bale, always an actor who’s up for a bad time, plays German-born US Air Force pilot Dieter Dengler (the subject of Herzog’s 1997 documentary ‘Little Dieter Needs To Fly’). He’s shot down during his first mission in America’s then-secret bombing raids into Laos, captured by the local militia, then transferred deep inland where their other American prisoners (Jeremy Davies, Steve Zahn) are broken men after many months of mistreatment. Dengler, however, is made of irrepressible stuff, and little by little a plan emerges, though quite how to navigate through the surrounding greenery remains an unresolved issue.

With his Hollywood cast braving weight loss, mudslides, swollen rivers and very real snakes and leeches, this extraordinary tale has a degree of believability which would doubtless have been lacking in a conventional retelling of the same events. Clearly, there are resonances here with Herzog’s other great man-against-nature sagas, ‘Aguirre, Wrath of God’ and ‘Fitzcarraldo’, and although there’s no Klaus Kinski aboard this time, Bale makes an arguably more sympathetic foil in a story whose extreme privations and twisted fortunes generate a sort of zonked-out surrealism. Herzog clearly hasn’t allowed the task of delivering a thrilling and accessible adventure yarn to divert him from his life-long obsession with the strange elision of truth and fiction.—Trevor Johnston.

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