Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rescue Dawn

When Dieter Dengler was a small boy in Germany during World War II an American bomber flew very low in his village while bombing the junk out of it and Dieter happened to catch the pilot's eye for a split second as he flew by Dieter's house. For most people this would haunt you for the rest of your life, but Dieter is not most people. For it seems nothing can break Dieter Dengler's spirit. He has an insatiable since of hope and a belief that all humans are good, even if they are presently doing bad things. This disposition will come in handy later in his life and in his story. So, Dieter spends the next decades slowly saving the money to move to America, gaining his residency, and working his way up the ranks of the Air Force to where he can be a fighter pilot of his own. On his very first mission during the very early stages of the Vietnam conflict, he is shot down and quickly taken prisoner. This is where Rescue Dawn picks up. Almost bizarrely, Dieter, though he struggles, seems to never lose his foundational respect for his captors. Even while they are torturing him, he politely asks for water and will smile and say hello when a new person walks in. They, in turn, offer him the chance to be released if he will only denounce America and release an Anti-American statement they've prepared for him. Dieter immediately turns down their offer saying he will never denounce America. His unbreakable spirit is just what his fellow POW's need and the group (from all over the world) decide to put their head together and make a break for it. But doing so not only means getting out of the POW camp, but also making out of the jungles of Laos and into friendly Thailand. The film was shot in all the same locations as the true story and, as such, they had to deal with many of the same natural elements. This is important because from moment one this movie feels incredibly authentic. When the characters are struggling with a powerful river, the actors and camera persons are also struggling with it. Christian Bale says that when Werner Herzog was interviewing him for the part the questions were things like, are you afraid of leeches, would you mind living in the jungle for the next several months in a tent, can you cut your way out of impossibly thick underbrush, and could you pick up snakes you find in the wild. It is amazing. And the actors seemed to eat it right up because not only are their performances heartbreakingly natural, but they physically invested in the part, losing frightening amounts of weight and enduring all of the physical hardships firsthand (no stunt doubles here). In 1997 Werner Herzog made a fantastic documentary about Dieter called Little Dieter Needs to Fly and was so inspired by him and his story that, in 2004, when Dieter died, Herzog wanted to pay tribute to him by making his story into a feature film. Well, he's certainly done Dengler justice, as this movie is fantastic from start to finish. I suggest pairing it in a double feature with the documentary as both are some of Herzog's best works and truly no one can get enough of the inspiring unflappable Dieter.

Worth Watching

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