(2007) dir. Werner Herzog
Rescue Dawn is a dramatization of the story of Dieter Dengler, the only American GI to escape from a Vietnamese/Laotian prison camp (so the film says). Director Werner Herzog had already tackled the material in a documentary (that I haven’t yet seen) called Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997), referencing a statement that Dengler had said about himself in reference to his passion and desire to fly airplanes.
Born in Germany during WWII, Dengler moved to the United States and joined the military with the desire to fly planes. However, on his first assignment, a covert operation prior to the “official” start of the Vietnam conflict, Dengler is shot down and eventually captured by the Viet Cong. His prison camp in Laos is a fairly brutal place. I only modify that statement because of the intensity of depiction that one has become familiar with cinematically, going back to Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978) and John Woo’s briliant Bullet in the Head (1990) which seemed to rework The Deer Hunter from a totally different perspective or the almost ubiquitous though anomolous epic Apocalypse Now (1979). It’s all a very head-trippy, monstrous approach to understanding the psychosis of war. A modern approach to the most modern of wars (til recently perhaps).
Rescue Dawn is utterly earnest, with decent moments, decent performances, and decent cinematography. I say this all knowing that the levels of intensity have been brought before by other films, other films from the performers, other films from the director. The whole thing is a modestly entertaining, clearly PG-13 version of a very interesting story.
I’ve got a guess that the documentary is much better. But I don’t know. Herzog is an interesting guy. But this is not by any means his most interesting film.