Rescue Dawn–Werner Herzog


So my uncle and I went to see Rescue Dawn, the new Werner Herzog film. Rescue Dawn is the true story of Dieter Dengler (not a porn name), an Air Force pilot who crashed his plane during a mission over Laos in 1966. Dengler was captured, held as a POW, and tortured by his captors. Dengler organized and executed a daring escape, leading the other prisoners out of the camp. In 1997 Herzog made a documentary about Dengler’s story called Little Dieter Needs to Fly. I have not seen that film.

My expectations for Rescue Dawn were high–I love Herzog’s films, which mix high adventure with a sense of naturalistic realism and psychological surrealism–and I love Christian Bale, he of American Psycho fame, who plays Dengler. I suppose my expectations were too high, because Rescue Dawn wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it would be. My uncle was also slightly disappointed. It was by no means bad, but it wasn’t nearly as good as its reviews would make it seem; additionally, it’s practically a Hollywood action movie (complete with the big happy ending in front of an assembled audience of cheering extras)–something I wouldn’t have expected from Herzog. Bale is excellent though, as is co-star Steve Zahn, and the setting and pacing of the film make for an exciting afternoon. Then again, so does Missing in Action.

I may be going a little rough on Rescue Dawn–it’s better than 99% of the schlock out there, and in a summer crowded with franchise sequels, I think that moviegoers (i.e. people who go to the movies every week) should go check it out. Chalk my disappointment up to high expectations. Netflix addicted hermits like myself should probably just wait for the DVD.

9 thoughts on “Rescue Dawn–Werner Herzog”

  1. I think this film is one that takes a while for its impact to be felt. I left the theater not quite blown away, but I’ve found myself thinking about it later and thinking, “Man, that was amazing.” The dark sense of humor/irony, the conflict between Dieter and Eugene, the eating of a live snake…unforgettable.
    Also, it was supposed to be Herzog’s “Hollywood Action Movie,” and was marketed at such, no doubt to help him fund future less accessible works. It’s hard to say if such an endeavor is really a success though, with hard core fans such of yourself feeling a bit let down, and people like my dad, who I saw the film with, who felt that it could have used more action. In any case, I hope it does well, although I must agree with you that ending was a bit corny. Funny thing about Herzog, he’s so damn prolific, but thematically he seems incapable of straying from man vs nature. RD proves he’s willing to try new formats though. What’s next, Herzog Rom-Com?


  2. I’ve queued up Little Dieter on your recommendation micbk–but it’ll have to wait for Hot Fuzz, Inland Empire, and The Host…
    Tom, I think you make some good points–particularly about the dark humor, an aspect of the film that I thoroughly enjoyed and neglected to mention in my review. For the record, I have no problem with Herzog making a “Hollywood” film, especially if it helps him fund future projects. It’s just that the end was really too much for me–kind of the final letdown. Still, I do think that the film was good–but I wanted it to be great.


  3. don’t hold it against me if you don’t enjoy it ed b. i’m a huge Herzog fan and he can virtually do no wrong in my eyes…that said i’m not as stoked to see Rescue Dawn as i have been in the past to see his work. fwiw, I loved Hot Fuzz but didn’t particularly care for The Host. I attribute that to the fact that i can’t reconcile myself to the Korean since of humor and the absurd. to date, i’ve only really enjoyed Park Chan Wook (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance) films of the Korean stuff i’ve seen. can’t wait to see Inland Empire though i’m weary after hearing several bad reviews from friends. btw – if you feel like it, add me as a netflix friend – my email is


  4. i agree with the host. i’ve said, since i saw the movie, that Herzog was trying to win an Oscar or something with this movie. There was way too much in it that my parents would like. It takes parts from buddy-cop movies, buddies in prison movies, and buddies on the road movies and then throws those components into a buddies in war movie.

    i’m just starting to watch Herzog’s movies. Fitzcarraldo is on the coffee table in a Netflix envelope waiting to be watched and i thought Wrath of God was one of the most amazing things i’ve ever seen (personally, i’m waiting for ed biblioklept to get his hands on a copy of Klaus Kinski’s autobiography, which is supposed to be a primo example of excellent celebrity writing and self-indulgence). even Aguirre, in spite of his megalomania, seems to realize that he’s fucked at the end of that movie. the biggest problem i had with Rescue Dawn was that little Dieter seemed to be the exact same character at the end of the movie as he was at the beginning. some might argue that this was the director’s way of criticizing American leadership’s inability to adapt to the realities of Vietnam, but i think the real point was that Bale/Dieter wasn’t a real character, but another Herzog archetype.


  5. Not to get off topic too much, but if you were looking for a decent action flick for the weekend then you should have seen Live Free or Die Hard (Die Hard 4). It was surprisingly solid for what it was — a third sequel.

    Let me know when you get Hot Fuzz. I’d love to see that again if I can score an invite to the Château d’biblioklept.


  6. if mr. ricotta sees this post, he should either sell the kinski book (right now paperback is $45 on ebay), or mail it to me.

    I might also be Ichabod crane or maybe, i don’t know, … the Iliad?


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