Director Werner Herzog; Release date: out now
Rescue Dawn develops on from Werner Herzog's 1997 documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, about his friend, German born US Navy pilot, Dieter Dengler. Dengler managed to break out of a North Vietnamese prison camp in Laos during the Vietnam War.
In Rescue Dawn, Herzog, the German art-film director (Fitzcarraldo and documentary Grizzly Man are among his numerous other features), re-tracks Dengler's chaotic 23-day escape through the dense, unrelenting Laotian jungle following his escape. Herzog uses documentary-style storytelling to make a brilliant feature. Rescue Dawn is an unnerving, but heart wrenching, not-to-miss film.
Batman and American Psycho actor Christian Bale fits the role as the patient and good-natured Dengler surprisingly well. It's 1966 and Dengler is applauded by his compatriots as he goes out on his first top-secret mission to bomb some "objectives" in Laos. We learn later in the film that the beginning of the CIA-directed secret military incursions into Laos was in 1964 when the war-front was relocated north west in the hope of placating the Vietnamese anti-colonialist leader Ho Chi Minh.
Bale remarkably conveys the sincerity of Dengler's love of flying and his adopted motherland-the country that gave him wings, in Dengler's words.
But it doesn't go well for Dengler when he is shot down within minutes of takeoff. There follows his capture, torture and imprisonment together with a bunch of already broken, half mad prisoners who haven't eaten a proper meal in two years and sleep cuffed to each other at hands and feet. But Dengler isn't a man who loses heart. Instead he starts planning his escape straight away.
Rescue Dawn is such a must-see because it strips everything down to bare essentials. There's not much in Dengler's world to strip, but the film is nakedly earnest. It's the opposite of the run of the mill war movie. There's no patriotic pomp, no frills, no testosterone-charged, muscle-swollen soldiers running through landscapes of exploding mines (even if Dengler does eat a live snake, which you'd have to admit is quite brave), and no stars and stripes fluttering in the background.
There's just Dengler's survival instinct and unrelenting will to live. Rescue Dawn is an unusually quiet war movie that simply explains the inhumanity of war.