Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rescue Dawn - Movie Review

Rescue DawnRescue Dawn is an interesting, surprisingly apolitical war film about the escape of Vietnam POW Dieter Dengler, played by Christian Bale. In many ways, it feels like it could be the unofficial sequel to Bale's first film, Empire of the Sun - in which he was a young child, Jim Graham, in wartime - wanting to fly a plane. If he impersonated a German American and joined the U.S. Air Force, I could easily see Dengler being the grown-up Jim Graham. The instant he's in the rain-forest, Dieter takes charge - building makeshift shelters and foraging for food and water. We're not really given any explanation for this unusual skill or hardiness, just as we know little about Dieter's life outside, beyond a few reminiscences to fellow POWs (my explanation is a childhood in Soochow with Jim Malkovich's Basie.)

While shot beautifully in lush jungles, featuring several terrific actors (Bale is great as usual, as are Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies), it ultimately feels rather empty. Partly this is because Dieter never seems to fail at anything until near the end of the film. Looking for food? There it is. Need to avoid the guards? They look the other way. It ruins all sense of tension or risk. The director commented on Dieter's illogical optimism being his greatest asset, but given how seldom he fails, this optimism seems to be mere logic.

Christian Bale is intensely committed to the part, but it almost seems like he's just hitting the beats - cockiness, bravery, despair, relief, etc. - a pale shadow of the originality he had as Jim Graham. This isn't entirely his fault - he never has some real character to sink his teeth into, and he tries his best with what he has. Dieter's character is seen entirely through the eyes of the other characters - it never seems like we are looking from his POV, he has no inner life, so it's hard to identify with him as the protagonist.

Still, it has some excellent elements. The scenery is gorgeous, the direction excellent, and the music sublime. While there are a few torture scenes, they aren't particularly graphic (though intense), so it still seems like a fairly light movie that I'd have no issue watching with my younger siblings. I may be being unjust to the film given the many, many good movies I've watched recently - it's definitely above par.

 For a further Empire of the Sun connection:

And for my review of that movie.

3.5/5 stars

Hannah Long


  1. Once I saw a brief bit of this, and really wanted to see the rest. I'm a bit disappointed to hear that his character doesn't seem that well crafted, or things given a more realistic aspect, but I still would like to see it for its good elements.


Warning: blogger sometimes eats comments - make sure you copy your message before you post.