I like to think that faced with a live-or-die dilemma, I'd cowboy-up and show some grit. That's the real mark of humanity, isn't it? Staring down the event that caused the flight portion of our protective instinct to tingle, and successfully fight through incredibly poor odds to get it done.
Except I'm a sissy.
Sure, I'd fight like hell to help or save someone I loved. Even look at my kids wrong and I'll punch you in the mouth. Jump line in front of my wife at Kroger, it's me who's gonna complain. If some dire circumstance occurred that placed their safety in jeopardy, I'd do whatever it took to make things right. But place my health, safety or livelihood on the line?
I'll get to it later.
That's why the true-life inspired story of Dieter Dengler is so interesting to me. Played by Christian Bale, Lt. Dengler is a US Navy pilot who seems to sneer back at danger every time it stares him in the face. Testing fighter planes, shot down in the jungles of Vietnam, held for years in a POW camp, tortured physically and psychologically--none of it breaks Dengler. He's forever focused on his belief that everything will work out perfectly for him. That mindset not only keeps him sane, it likely sets up those opportunities that eventually do provide him with survival options.
Rescue Dawn is a fascinating study in how hope and optimism effect outcome. The movie slowly lets the characters develop, and allows the audience to feel connected to the prisoners Dengler lives with in the POW camp. Bale is very good--as always--as Dengler, but it's supporting actor Steve Zhan who really shines in this flick. Seen mostly in lighter fare during his career, Zhan is remarkable as POW Duane Martin. He keeps pace with Bale through the entire movie.
A blogpost or two ago I complained about not really getting action-driven flicks like the Bourne trilogy. Rescue Dawn is a terrific example of the type of movies I do get, and like: stories that rely on character development and dialogue to move the plot, and that leave me contemplative days later.
This movie isn't for everyone, but it's one of the best I've seen in months.