Saturday, January 05, 2008

Rescue Dawn

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.


Ian C. said...

Have you seen Herzog's documentary on Dengler, 'Little Dieter Needs to Fly'? I told myself I'd rent it shortly after seeing 'Rescue Dawn,' but still haven't gotten around to it. Obviously, this is a story that's resonated with Herzog over his career.

The Film Geek said...

I haven't seen it, but I did read about it before I rented this movie. Seems Herzog felt some sort of kindred spirit with Dengler, which explains why he made Dengler a greater hero than the other POW's he was with (which, according to lots of sources, wasn't accurately portrayed in the movie).

Buzzardbilly said...

You're absolutely right! Zahn blew me away in this role. I swear it looked like he was losing weight the entire movie too. Just a really excellent, genuine performance from a guy I usually like to laugh at (depending on the movie, of course...I think his best is "Happy Texas").

I thought the movie dragged a bit before the Bale character catches up with the Zahn character and the rest of the POWs.

I almost shied away from renting it because it was a POW flick. I cannot watch torture without feeling like I'm going to throw up. All in all, though, it was a a really good movie. I only hid my eyes (torture-wise) in one spot and then it ended up I didn't need to hide them at all.

The Film Geek said...

I agree with the point that it dragged a bit outside the POW camp. I thought the ending, for example, was the weakest part of the movie. About the weight: they shot this movie in reverse, with the actors very thin first. Then, the actors gained weight as they began shooting the first parts of the flick.

Jackie said...

Wow! I gotta check this out.

And in no way are you a Sissy. According to the Guy Handbook if you meet the following criteria then you're not a "Sissy":
1. You don't live w/ your parents
2. You've worked the door at a bar, or fought in one
3. Look like Kevin Nash

See? I told ya :D

The Film Geek said...

Thanks, Jackie! It's good to have a manly checklist that I meet all the criteria to. :)

I think you will like it. Let me know if you do.