For the record, Rescue Dawnis not a war movie. If you go in expecting heavy action, lots of gunplay, and large-scale battle sequences, you will be horribly disappointed. Rather, the film is about friendship, hope, and survival. It’s a character study. The pacing and method of storytelling is more like The Shawshank Redemption- short episodic sections that, when assembled together, form the overall narrative arc.
Christian Bale plays Dieter Dengler, a Navy pilot stationed on an aircraft carrier just off the coast of Laos in 1965. The story follows Dieter’s first mission, subsequent capture by the Vietnamese, and his life in a makeshift POW camp deep in the jungle. Director Werner Herzog made this film as a follow up to his 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Flyin order to expound on more of the story and complete what Dengler himself saw as “unfinished business.”
The film itself is honest in its approach. It’s incredibly genuine and we feel as though we are watching actual events as they unfold. Bale’s dedication to the role is admirable and the investments he makes in his portrayal pay dividends in the final cut. Bale and the supporting cast of fellow POW’s (including Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies) succeed in developing a level of realism that fills in the for the lack of action and digital effects.
The biggest problem with Rescue Dawn is the fact that it has no real emotional impact. It fails to create a level of intensity that is to be expected from this type of story. At times the narrative seems content just to flow along slowly, like the lethargy of a meandering river. Therefore, it’s hard to connect with Bale’s character. You want to commit to the story 100%. You want to cheer for Dieter. But in the end you just sit back and say to yourself, “Whatever. If he makes it, he makes it.”
4 1/2 out of 10