Rescue Dawn

(2007) *** 1/2 Unrated
126 min. MGM. Director: Werner Herzog. Cast: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, Marshall Bell, François Chau.
Werner Herzog's stunning Rescue Dawn models true-story restraint. Based on the true story of U.S. Navy pilot Dieter Dengler—downed in Laos in 1965—Herzog's script hews closely to Dengler's first-person account in Herzog's 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. The director's treatment of Dengler's time as a P.O.W. and eventual escape relies on none of the usual rhythmic or tonal conventions that lull audience's into thoughtless, tensionless passivity. Klaus Badelt's fine score is rigorously spare in the film's long middle passage of survival. Herzog resists trumping up the story with unnecessary intrigues; rather, he unobtrusively observes the story with sad empathy for the ravages of wartime on both sides of the conflict. Steve Zahn, brilliantly cast against type, proves his soulful capability as one of Dengler's fellow prisoners, and Christian Bale, as Dengler, gives another physically fearless performance, one that by picture's end strips him down to full mental and emotional exposure.
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