Herzog’s first American film, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone on the crew tried to kill him!
Written By: Werner Herzog
Directed By: Werner Herzog
This is the part where I warn you not to read this review if you don’t want the end spoiled. I am going to begin by discussing the ending of Rescue Dawn in particular and the main complaint I have heard levied against the end. If you haven’t seen Rescue Dawn and don’t want to be spoiled then strop reading right now.
The ending of Rescue Dawn is unbelievable and implausible, even if it did actually happen that way as I have been led to believe. At first I was upset at the ending, wondering why a great movie had been marred by an ending that didn’t fit. The more I thought about it the more I came to the conclusion that the ending Werner Herzog provides is the ending Rescue Dawn needs. It doesn’t fit with the gritty and fatally realistic tone of the rest of the movie, but it does fit with the way Dieter looks at life and that is all that matters. Dieter’s madcap escape from the CIA agents validates the upbeat character of Dieter. Without that ending I don’t know if I would have walked away from Rescue Dawn as fulfilled as I did.
The case can be made for all kinds of subtext in Rescue Dawn, it wouldn’t be a Herzog film if it wasn’t full of subtext. However I didn’t spend much of my time thinking about man versus nature, man versus himself, the politics of the Vietnam war, and so on and so forth. I knew that many interpretations were present, but as I watched Rescue Dawn I remained entrenched on the surface story being presented to me. For me Rescue Dawn was about Dieter Dengler’s time spent in Laos and the eternal hope he carried with him throughout that time.
I found that hope and Dengler’s somewhat odd nature to be the framing device Herzog opted to use for the movie. Rescue Dawn doesn’t follow traditional beats, it is bereft of the typical action or comedic moments, it’s even bereft of the typical dramatic moments. By framing the beats around Dieter’s odd personage Herzog finds comedy in moments where there appears to be none, avoids the action cliches and maintains a dramatic pulse from moment to moment.
In a way Rescue Dawn was like a beacon of hope for me, when I say this I am referring to Christian Bale. After a series of subpar performances in The Prestige, Batman Begins, Terminator Salvation and The Dark Knight I began to doubt his earlier work. Maybe he wasn’t as skilled of an actor as I had thought, maybe he burned through a few good roles and had nothing left to offer? Seeing Bale deliver a great performance during the same time he made the aforementioned films reinstated my faith in the man as an actor. I’m not referring to the weight loss either, it’s not a bad thing but making yourself look the role physically is not a major part of acting for me, I’m talking about the honest emotion he brings out of Dieter. I’m not the best when it comes to discussing acting, but I do know that Bale completely immersed himself in the role of Dieter and it shows.
Rescue Dawn is a beautiful film, yet another that falls into the category of ugliness made gorgeous, with Jeremy Davies and Steve Zahn providing excellent supporting acting. It’s not a traditional war or prison escape movie, but Herzog is far from a traditional director. It is painful to watch at times, but it is realistic and gripping, playing out like a tome to one man’s survival. Do yourself a favor and check out Herzog’s first American production if you haven’t already done so, Rescue Dawn is worth it.