Werner Herzog has created another visually stunning, realistic portrayal of a determined man’s struggle to succeed and overcome enormous obstacles in his new film “Rescue Dawn,” which premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival this weekend. Like Ken Loach‘s “The Wind That Shakes The Barley,” (also at Toronto) which is about the British oppression of Irish right after World War I, “Rescue Dawn” shows in minute detail how war impacts and destroys individual lives as they struggle with the cruelty and absurdity that armed conflict brings.
Herzog focuses purely on the personal in “Rescue Dawn.” Aside from the timeliness of the film, with it’s similiarities to the Iraq War with scenes of torture of abuse of war prisoners, Herzog chooses to stay entirely on Dieter Dengler’s plight instead of commenting on the political machinations surrounding him in the way that Loach’s film so expertly achieves. The odd and optimistic Dieter Dengler is portrayed by Christian Bale, who does a wonderful job of again not simply portraying a character but inhabiting the role in a very physical way. Underweight and haggard, Bale desparately tears at the Vietnam landscape, realizing that escaping the P.O.W. camp has only thurst him into a much larger prison: the untamed jungle.
The film in many ways is reminscent of Herzog’s masterpiece “Fitzcarraldo,” about a man’s struggle to achieve his goal by tangling with the wilderness and winning.