Saturday, June 07, 2008

Rescue Dawn

RESCUE DAWN, starring Christian Bale, ultimately gets my vote as a movie I wanted to be better than it was, although I did enjoy watching it.

All of the ingredients were there for a compelling story. Based on a true story, RESCUE DAWN takes us to 1965 and a highly classified airstrike over Laos. Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) is shot down and ultimately captured and taken prisoner. He is tortured in heinous ways - tied spread eagle to stakes, hung from his feet while tied to an ant hill, dragged, and that's not all - and is finally taken to a prison camp in Vietnam where he meets up with other prisoners, some of whom have been captive for over two years. Dengler faces the challenges of new types of torture, dealing with the almost-broken minds of his fellow prisoners, and trying to persuade them to join him in an escape attempt.

A strong supporting cast (Steve Zahn for one - The Object of My Affection, You've Got Mail, Stuart Little 2 etc. etc. etc.) should have rounded out the movie to make it a sure hit, but the criticism I have of the movie falls to the (gasp) writing. On the one hand, I can applaud movies that aren't Hollywood-ized, that don't try to fit into the conventional structures and manipulate readers. On the other hand, viewers need reasons to care and be engaged. What this movie lacked was enough of a beginning introduction to the character of Dengler to fully engage our sympathies early on. Ultimately, I was invested in his struggle and challenges, but this grew after he was taken captive and tortured. Even the torture wasn't overplayed. Again, there's something great about a movie not overdramatizing things, but the tightly controlled emotions made it harder to really connect to the characters. Again, with the supporting cast, we didn't get enough time to really develop our connections to each individual one and understand their motivations and thought processes all of the time.

That said, Christian Bale is one of my favourite actors. He's an actor capable of playing a good guy and making you root for him, and he's capable of playing a conflicted character, and also a bad guy. He has tremendous range, and has chosen to go a more interesting path than some actors, who just try to churn out blockbuster after blockbuster. I have had an appreciation for his skill since Swing Kids, and he was brilliant in American Psycho, and I really want to see 3:10 to Yuma.

Although I haven't thought about it at length, he strikes me as an actor who could play the character 'Craig' if my book series was ever converted to film. He can cover both sides of the complexity of Craig Nolan, which comes out more in book 2, THE FRAILTY OF FLESH.

Back to the subject at hand, all in all I liked Rescue Dawn, but it did have a few hiccups, some rough transitions, and what I'd call distant filming (more wide shots that distanced you emotionally from the characters somehow) that didn't serve it well.

(And on another note, there's another WBW review that's online now. I've really been blessed with the strong, positive feedback for the book, and my thanks to all who took the time to read it and review it. I'm glad you liked it.)

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