FF19 - Rescue Dawn

Intro by John Roderick

There's an entire subgenre of war films dedicated to prisoners of war, especially POWs in Vietnam. The term Prisoner of War conjures an incredibly visceral images of weakened and often brutalized soldiers, stripped of authority and deprived of dignity. In the hierarchy of courageous soldier figures, the defiant POW is about as heroic as it gets. In Rescue Dawn, Werner Herzog wrote and directed a narrative dramatic film directly in the tire tracks of his own earlier documentary film Little Dieter [Needs] to Fly.

The story of how German US pilot Dieter Dengler was shot down over Laos in 1966 and taken prisoner must have really haunted Herzog's dreams for him to make two films about it. He cast that other barrel of laughs, Christian Bale as the star, confusingly, given that Herzog himself has a thick German accent and Bale an inscrutable English one, they chose to portray Dengler, who also had a thick German accent in real life, as having the accent of a guy from Sacramento who sells Mazdas. Dengler's story in Herzog's film aren't only about a POW's resistance to hunger, torture, disease and insanity. In his struggle to survive Dengler must make common cause with his fellow prisoners, many of whom are unable or unwilling to escape or provide him aid.

Hope of survival runs out right as the food does, forcing a hastily planned escape. Betrayal splits the group into factions that must fight their captors and each other to survive. How much can you take away from someone before they break? How many Vietnam POW camp tropes can you insert into a film before the film itself violates the Geneva Convention? How many more times can Christian Bale lose 80 pounds for a film role before he has heart failure? What happens when you combine one of the most committed documentary storytellers with one of the most intense actors in the world? A whimsical romp? Or a movie where people are eating live centipedes? We'll find out after watching the 2006 Vietnam War POW film Rescue Dawn.

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