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Arts and Entertainment

Movie Review: Rescue Dawn

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While most of the country was out watching Transformers over the holiday, we in Los Angeles were lucky enough to have the chance to see Rescue Dawn. Directed by the great, mad German Werner Herzog (and inspired by his own 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly), Rescue Dawn tells the story of Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), an American fighter pilot who was shot down over Laos in 1966, captured and tortured by Pathet Lao forces and eventually imprisoned in a POW camp. Given the title of the film (and its rather pointed one-sheet), I don't think I'm spoiling anything by mentioning that Dengler does, in fact, escape from the camp. Knowing that, though, doesn't limit the enjoyment of the film one bit.

Most of the credit for that goes to the stunning work delivered not only by Bale, but two of his co-stars, Steve Zahn andJeremy Davies. By now, Bale is generally recognized as one of the premiere actors working in film. His work in Rescue Dawn will only add to his already significant reputation. His Dengler is alternately cocksure and frightened, determined and hopeless, heroic, angry, overcome both by sadness and joy--in other words, fully and deeply human. Zahn and Davies are no less equal to the task. Zahn's Duane and Davies' Gene have wasted away and been broken by their long imprisonment in markedly different ways. Duane has retreated into a gaze of permanent fear, while Gene is the sarcastic, pessimistic bully. Neither actor has ever been better.

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The greatest praise, however, must be reserved for Herzog. Clearly, the story of Dieter Dengler (and Dengler himself) has left a deep impression on him. Not only has he directed his actors to brilliant performances, he has also told a story with such care and precision that you almost feel as if you're in the camp with the prisoners. One of the best things you can ever say about a movie is that you feel you're inside it even as you're watching it. In Rescue Dawn, I felt the boredom, the depression, the despair, the anger and the joy of escape of the POWs. In a summer full of sequels and big-budget bloated excess, this wonderful tale of survival, hope and comradery should not be missed.

Rescue Dawn is playing at several theaters in L.A.

Photos courtesy of MGM