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Rescue Dawn

Starring Christian Bale
written and directed by Werner Herzog

IN SHORT: OK, depending on whether you've been (or how close you came to being) there. [Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense war violence and torture. 120 minutes]

When it comes to films involving the Vietnam war, we gotta be honest. Big honkin' emotional walls come a-smashing down in Cranky's make-up. The mandatory draft for the war ended a month before we had to register. The emotional rift created by that war echoes every day with what is going on in Iraq. Yeah, it's hard hitting middle age and seeing it all happening all over again, and then have to see it in the movie theater.

That being put out of the way, this story is a true one. POW camps were hell holes, as at least one presidential candidate can tell you. This is the story of one Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), a German immigrant who volunteered for the Armed Forces and, on his first flight over enemy territory was shot down and captured. He would become the only man to successfully escape a Laotian POW camp. That in and of it self should be enough to make the film worth watching but, and this is where we come in, most of that detail isn't actually in the film!

Dengler was a German kid, growing up during the second world war with bombs dropping all around him from the Allied attacks. He knew deprivation. He came into his teens in the post war era, when there was nothing to build on and, apparently, plenty of frustrated ex soldiers and old men to beat on (him). But Dengler wanted to fly and as soon as he could get to the US, at age eighteen, he volunteered for the military, hoping to learn. Now, if all this material is actually in the film -- we don't remember it being there -- then it is a much better film than we recall. If it is not, then you now have enough background to be very impressed with the way this kid Dengler handled himself in Laotian captivity.

He is not alone in the POW camp -- a huge facility which seems to hold about half a dozen men. Two other Americans are in camp with him, Duane (Steve Zahn) can only recommend keeping quiet to stay alive, while the barely sane “Gene from Eugene" (Jeremy Davies) is borderline nuts. Daily arguments as to whether or not the Pathet Lao are going to let the prisoners go or trade 'em or kill 'em become the usual rules of the day. Dengler watches and waits and, then comes the rest of the film...

... 'cuz the POW camp is a cake walk next to getting home through the jungle. Here's where we leave you, reader. If "Vietnam" is just a tag sewed into your clothes, you should be able to get a lot more out of rescue dawn than anyone who lived through the paranoid years of approaching draft and unending war -- that's us -- or, more to the point, actually got shipped across the world.

A lot of movies work or fail based on what you bring in to the theater. We have to leave it there. There's nothing in the performances that gives us a reason to tell you to stay away, this is all emotion. Your comments, as always, are welcome on the message boards

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