I don’t really need to write about ‘Rescue Dawn’. Tim’s review on Antagony & Ecstasy nails it.
Herzog’s source material – the plight of German-American pilot Dieter Dengler, shot down over Laos, imprisoned by the non-Geneva-Convention-friendly Vietcong and forced to survive inhospitable jungle conditions after he escapes – is something the director has already dealt with in his astounding documentary ‘Little Dieter Needs to Fly’.
True, re-approaching the story as a Hollywood-backed (and therefore decently budgeted) feature film means that Herzog can tackle it on a much broader canvas. And what he delivers is a compelling, well-made, brilliantly-acted slice of mainstream film-making.
But, as Tim pointedly asks, Who the holy fuck wants Werner Herzog to be a consummate professional?
If all this sounds like I’m gearing up to give ‘Rescue Dawn’ a slating, that’s not the case. There’s much to admire: it’s pacy, graced with terrific performances (Herzog manages to elicit a performance from Steve Zahn that doesn’t involve goofing around and being a wise-ass – and that’s saying something!), and is refreshingly non-judgemental in its observational portrayal of the VC, lifting the film far beyond the usual ‘grunts and gooks’ characterisations that typify American productions of this ilk.
And yet … and yet … this is Herzog in the jungle. This should be ‘Aguirre’ with planes, ‘Fitzcarraldo’ goes ’Nam. What it is, ultimately, is a dichotomy. It’s simultaneously one of the best things I’ve seen in a multiplex this year and arguably the most ordinary thing in Herzog’s filmography.