Tag Archives: vietnam war

Rescue Dawn – Review

2 Dec

When war movies follow a very specific formula, there’s a good chance that the whole movie watching experience will by tainted by over dramatic dialogue and an ending that can be seen a mile away. This can be said about any genre of film, but it bothers me the most in war movies, for some reason or another. In 1997, uber-director Werner Herzog made a documentary about the harrowing experience of Navy pilot Dieter Dengler in a Vietnamese POW camp. He then returned to the subject in 2006 with Rescue Dawn. While Rescue Dawn is a memorable war movie with some amazing performances, it does sort of get bogged down in war movie cliches, but somehow it seems to pull through.

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Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) is a Navy pilot about to go on his first mission. Since he was a boy, Dengler has always wanted to fly so this is his chance to show what he’s made of. Unfortunately for him, he gets shot down almost right as the mission begins. He is soon captured by Laotian soldiers, tortured, and thrown into a miserably sadistic POW camp. There he meets fellow pilots Duane Martin (Steve Zahn) and Gene DeBruin (Jeremy Davies), along with some Vietnamese citizens. Instead of giving up and trying to survive in the camp, Dengler plans an escape to only face another dangerous foe: the dense jungles of Vietnam that stand between him and his freedom in Thailand.

I’ve seen this movie compared to the classic war/escape film, The Great Escape, but I would compare it more to the much less acclaimed film Hart’s War. Both are about an American soldier forced to brave a violent prison camp. Still, while they sort of have the same vibe, Rescue Dawn is a far superior movie to Hart’s War. Anyone who knows about film history and the many characters that inhabit it will know of Werner Herzog and his legendary filmography. If this movie was in anyone else’s hands, the result would be something very bland and predictable, but Herzog isn’t afraid to take chances with his film making and take us places where we see things that we really don’t want to see. That is where the success of this movie lies.

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Herzog and his actors literally put their lives at risk making Rescue Dawn by braving the dangers in the jungle. Everything you see the actors do, no matter how gross, is being actually done in real life. Bale, Zahn, and Davies all lost a lot of weight to get into their roles, and it really helped bring me into the world of the movie, which is not a very comfortable place to be. Zahn and Davies give incredible performance, but Bale can sometimes feel a little awkward. Still, one of the main draws of this movie is the incredible story of Dengler’s escape as it happened, which is actually pretty damn accurate. This is not a comfortable movie to sit through, but Herzog and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger shoot the film so well that it’s hard to become disinterested.

I said before that Bale’s acting feels a little awkward at times, but I can’t put all of the blame just on Bale. While Herzog is really a wonder behind the camera and coming up with innovative ways of shooting a movie, his writing is really bland at times, and it shows in Rescue Dawn. Some of the lines that Dengler says is almost laughably cliched and can be found in most war movies. Scenes like that really shaked me out of the entire experience and made me look at it as a conventional war movie and not one that separates itself from the others. Luckily, Herzog’s storytelling works very well, and the acts all seem to blend into each other very well. Not to mention the suspense and terror in this movie is written and executed very well. Breath was held, ladies and gentlemen. Breath was held.

Rescue Dawn has a lot of potential to be a derivative, cliched, and boring war/drama film, but luckily it saved from the deep, dark depths of mediocrity. Zahn’s, Davie’s, and even Bale’s performances are all way above average. It would have been more enjoyable if Herzog’s dialogue didn’t shake up the flow of the movie. Still, it’s filmed so beautifully and horrifically that it’s both hard to watch but impossible to look away. More than anything, it tells a near accurate true story about a daring escape in the early years of Vietnam. This film will not attract everyone, and it will repel many, but for war and history buffs, it’s a movie that should be seen.

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The Wild Bunch – Review

13 Feb

“Bloody” Sam is a nickname that I envy and Sam Peckinpah rightly deserves it. This controversial, but infinitely important American director is responsible for helping mold the film medium into what it is today and inspire famous film makers like Quentin Tarantino. A lot of Peckinpah’s work, even though he is long dead, can be seen in the technique of film makers now. Let’s look at what many call his masterpiece. The time period is around the Vietnam War and the Western genre is slowly dying. Peckinpah had the perfect way to close off the genre with his almost anti-Western (in the traditional sense), The Wild Bunch.

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In 1913, the wild West is beginning to be more modernized and civilized. For aging outlaw Pike Bishop (William Holden) and his gang, this is a sign for retirement. Before he can call it quits, Pike needs to find that last score that will guarantee his riches for the rest of his life. Along with his best friend Dutch (Ernest Borgnine) and the rest of the gang, Pike makes his way to Mexico where they encounter General Mapache (Emilio Fernández), a sadistic general who has his claws in small villages. Pike is hired by Mapache to rob an American military train of its weapons cargo and in return will pay the gang $10,000. The robbery goes just fine, but Pike’s worries are just beginning which will end in an inevitable bloodbath.

If you think about the time that Peckinpah made The Wild Bunch, it may seem kind of clear as to why he took such a violent approach. The year was 1969, and Bonnie and Clyde shocked audiences with its depiction of graphic violence, but what’s even more significant is that this was made during the heat of the Vietnam War. War violence was shown in the households of American families by the news media, and this made Peckinpah amongst other people feel very nihilistic. To show the desensitization to violence that Peckinpah feared was happening to Americans, he decided to make The Wild Bunch as violent and graphic as he could possibly make it. Unfortunately for him, audiences ate it up instead of being shocked by it.

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Another inspiration for “Bloody” Sam was to make The Wild Bunch sort of an anti-Western. Before this movie, Westerns were relatively bloodless and even had the outlaw characters portrayed as heroes. Just look at John Wayne’s character in Stagecoach. In this film, the characters are all flawed or downright awful. The outlaws aren’t meant to be heroes, nor are they meant to be villains. They are whoever you want them to be. As for the blood, there is plenty of it. Just enough to match the amount of bullets being fired. Here’s a fun fact. More blank rounds were fired for this movie than were actually fired during the Mexican Revolution. That says something, I’d say.

In my opinion, the set design is also an improvement over the average American Western. The dirt and the grime all have a more realistic feel to it, and not like it was done specifically for the movie. It all looks appropriate for where the character’s are. This is also a testament to what Same Peckinpah was trying to do. He wanted to create a realistic Western to end the genre of what he thought to be unrealistic representations of the old West. Now, I wasn’t alive then, but I can imagine that this movie may have come pretty close.

The Wild Bunch is said to be the last of the great Westerns, and in the movie, it shows the last of the wild life that outlaws lived. With ties to the Vietnam War and Peckinpah’s own views of what the genre should be, this is truly and American masterpiece. I may stir up some controversy with this, but forget John Ford and forget John Wayne. If you want an exciting and brutally violent Western that will really leave you speechless, look no further than The Wild Bunch.