Sunday, July 8, 2007

Rave: Rescue Dawn

War is not in my inheritance. The closest we've really come is our peaceful campaign of civil disobedience against the British. The fiercest I might claim is Netaji, although that is youthful posturing, at best. In truth, my legacy is deeply Ghandian - humble and peaceful to an extreme.

Which is why I've never been to explain my deep fascination with the art of war, or precisely, the art of what war does to men. From precociously young, I've read Heller, Mailer, and O'Brien, and loved movies like The Deerhunter, Full Metal Jacket, and The Thin Red Line. Work that dramatizes the violence that man brings to man, the physical and spiritual embargoes it can place on a life, and the depth of experience that it evokes.

Add to the list Werner Herzog's latest, Rescue Dawn.

Ducking inside the Angelika theater to avoid the heat, humidity, and beautiful women of SoHo, I took in Rescue Dawn on a Sunday afternoon. It was harrowing - the perfect war movie. Opening rather cheekily with a funny send-up of Top Gun (which no one seemed to notice), the movie quickly dives behind enemy lines, into the Laotian jungle. Navy pilot Dieter Dengler crashes on his first sortie, is captured by the Viet Cong, tortured (Christian Bale in some harrowing scenes), imprisoned, and finally, having plotted an escape into the jungle, confronted with the final antagonist in nature itself. All of the elements for a man to prove himself are there: guns, bombs, beauracricies, insane natives, torture, starvation, depraved conditions, monsoons, snakes, mudslides, murdered friends, maggots. You name it.

Herzog made the movie based on a true story he had previously documented (see this Slate article), and as far as true stories go, it is amazing. Herzong and Bale also seem to make an excellent pairing, in so far as they are willing to push each other and the movie to points of extreme. Between his genuinely compelling performances, the physical limits to which he will push himself, and his rakish on-screen charm and star power, I have to wonder - is anyone really coming close to Christian Bale these days?

Not a strictly fun summer movie, but well worth seeing. Also, check out these interviews of Bale and Herzog, if you're killing time...

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