[Moving picture of popcorn]

Laramie Movie Scope:
Rescue Dawn

Good prisoner escape movie

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

August 28, 2007 -- “Rescue Dawn,” based on a true story, is a prison movie about terrible prison conditions and a daring escape through tropical jungles and past hostile natives. This gritty tale pulls no punches in its depiction of military aviators trapped in a brutal jungle prison in Laos and the even worse conditions outside prison in the jungle. It is an amazing tale of survival told by veteran director Werner Herzog (“Grizzly Man”) who specializes in these kinds of man-against-nature films. In fact, this is Herzog's second film about this same story. The first was a documentary, “Little Dieter Needs to Fly.”

Dieter Dengler (played by Christian Bale of “Batman Begins”) is bombing targets in Laos during a secret mission for the U.S. during the Vietnam War when his plane crashes. Amazingly, Dengler, who rode the plane to the ground, would survive this terrible crash and four more plane crashes later in his career. He is captured and sent to a remote jungle prisoner of war camp, where he and the other prisoners are treated brutally by most of the guards. Soon after he arrives in camp, Dengler hatches a bold plan to escape. The other prisoners, some of whom have been held for more than two years, are not thrilled with Dengler's plan, which could get them all killed. One, Eugene DeBruin, (Jeremy Davies of “Manderlay”) threatens to rat out those planning to escape. Eugene, one of several “Air America” cargo pilots in the camp, has lost much of his sanity over the years. Another prisoner, helicopter pilot Duane Martin (Steve Zahn of “Sahara”) is also skeptical of the plan at first, but is finally won over by Dengler's enthusiasm and skill at picking locks and making tools from bits of metal.

A dramatic turn of events forces everyone to agree to Dengler's escape plan and also moves up the planned July 4 escape date. Things don't go according to plan during the escape and the prisoners are forced to flee through the jungle with enemy troops in hot pursuit. Local villagers are also deadly enemies, so the prisoners must hide from everyone. The prisoners even have to dodge “friendly fire” from American helicopters. Travel through the jungles is slow and tiring. An attempt to float a river doesn't turn out so well either. In the end, the prisoners are hallucinating from lack of food, rest and sleep. Their journey toward freedom is one of raw survival at an almost animal level of existence.

The story is told in largely visual terms, thanks to the fine camera work of Peter Zeitlinger (“Little Dieter Needs to Fly”) under what must have been brutal conditions. The film was shot in the northwestern part of Thailand near the Burmese border in hilly jungle terrain. The jungle journey is intense, exhausting and claustrophobic, recalling Herzog's earlier films in jungle settings, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Fitzcaraldo.” The performances by Zahn and Davies are outstanding. Bale is believable as the optimistic, fast-thinking and tough guy Dengler. While I have found some of Herzog's earlier films to be tedious and depressing, this one is engaging. While it does depict torture and brutality, it is also uplifting at times. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

[Strip of film rule]
Copyright © 2007 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
[Strip of film rule]
Back to the Laramie Movie Scope index.
[Rule made of Seventh Seal sillouettes]

Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)