Ken's Review: Rescue Dawn - A Truly True Story
by Ken Evans
August 5, 2007
I hadn't seen a Werner Herzog film before, but after watching this I want to run out and see them all. I hope that he puts as much time and effort into presenting a story in his other films like he did in Rescue Dawn. I don't know if I have ever seen a film that brought me into the reality of the story like this did. The problem with putting a true story to film is that the directors and screenwriters often feel the need to embellish a bit. Add a few more points of drama here, put a few more explosions or special effects there. Herzog doesn't do that to the story of Dieter Dengler. He gives us what happened, no more and no less.
What intrigued me most after watching this film is wondering "why did Herzog want to make this movie?" I didn't have to search far to find the answer. After doing a search for Dengler I found that Herzog was mentioned along with Dengler quite a bit. Without going too much into detail, as there is a lot to mention, I found that Herzog had stumbled across Dengler's story while doing some research for another film. Herzog found Dengler and got him to agree to assist making a movie about his experiences. This documentary called Little Dieter Needs to Fly was a success, although Dengler told Herzog that it was "unfinished business". In other words it wasn't complete. So Herzog decided that he had to retell the tale of Dieter Dengler in the form of Rescue Dawn.
The acting in this film was superb! At the forefront, I thought Steve Zahn (who played Duane) and Jeremy Davies (who played Gene) were outstanding. Although only having supporting roles they played their parts to perfection. Christian Bale (Dieter Dengler) was great and I'm sure that Herzog, knowing the real Dengler, wouldn't have cast him if he couldn't do the job. I just have to be careful with Bale. Although I think he is super cool, having been in Batman Begins and Equilibrium, he was in a movie recently, Harsh Times, which I not only disliked, but thought his performance was awful. I will however say that he is devoted to his craft. After watching what he will do to his body in The Machinist and now Rescue Dawn, I won't be questioning how far he will go for a film.
There isn't much you can say about a true story put to film. As long as the story teller keeps true to the actual events, you just have to sit and watch in awe that a human being actually lived through what we see on the big screen. All we can really criticize is how the director told the story. And as for that, all I can say is Herzog did an exceptional job telling this story, from keeping the music to a minimum so that we could hear the sounds of the jungle and really imagine ourselves there, to making us watch Dengler cut through the brush with his machete for a long sequence. Normally, that kind of scene would be cut out due to it being uneventful. Herzog makes us sit through those scenes to really put the audience into the moment. I applaud him for trusting the audience to respect the truthfulness of the story and for not turning it into a piece of entertaining popcorn fluff. I look forward to watching all of his older films and any movies that he has coming up in the future.