RESCUE DAWN—–now, with that title, and with its skeletal description—U.S. flyer escapes from the Commies during the Vietnam War—a lot of people will automatically give it a pass, thinking it’s going to be another gung-hoer about “our boys”, and so forth. But, this one is an oddball: it’s directed by the great German wildman Werner Herzog, and it’s a true story of the only soldier who made it out of Communist captivity during that miserable conflict. He happened to be a naturalized American citizen, from Germany, forty lousy minutes into his first mission, in 1965.* There’s bad luck, and then there’s worse…
What makes this harrowing little film work is Herzog’s insane on-location filming, an absence of flag-waving (’til the end, and as used it makes sense in terms of the story), but mostly it’s the daunting craft-dedication of Christian Bale and his fellow actors. This guy takes “getting into character” to some dangerous levels. There is a surprisingly strong role for Steve Zahn, heretofore known for comedy.
Herzog wrote the screenplay, lifted off his 1997 documentary on the subject, Little Dieter Needs To Fly, and took his cast deep into jungles in Thailand for some grueling ‘all-for-art’ duty: Bale dropped 55 pounds to portray his starvation-beset prisoner, others in the cast did the same; the already thin Jeremy Davies shedding 33, Steve Zahn, 40.
Costing $10,000,000, the film failed at the box-office, despite strong reviews, pulling only $7,177,000. That defeat was redeemed when the film went to video, where rentals and sales racked up $25,000,000. Seek it out, it’s quite a tale, one that may have you rethink your ‘jungle vacation’ plans.
120 minutes, with Zach Grenier, Francoise Chau, Toby Huss. The unpleasant Pathet Lao guards are fiercely put across by Thai actors Teerawat Mulvilai, Yuttana Muenwaja, Kriansak Ming-olo and Somkuan Siroon.
*Thoughtfully kept secret from the public, the United States was bombing Laos to dirt clods for a decade. Cruel beyond the pale, we scorched the impoverished country into the most bombed locale in history. From 1964 to 1973, our airmen dropped 2,500,000 tons of ordnance, including a horrifying two hundred seventy million cluster bombs. Thirty percent of that heinous payload didn’t detonate on impact, and it’s continued to kill and maim innocent people for decades: more than 20,000 since the hostilities stopped, 40% of them kids, along with countless water buffalo, elephants, tigers and other wildlife. And will keep on doing so. Gee whiz, it’s a good thing the fearsome Laotian Navy never made it to Santa Barbara. We might have ended up as some kind of totalitarian basket case.