“The jungle is the prison. Don’t you get it?”
Rated PG-13. Written & Directed by Werner Herzog. Starring Christian Bale, Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies.
It’s usually a problem when one of the more interesting parts of a movie comes with who’s listed in the opening credits. While watching Rescue Dawn, Werner Herzog’s adaptation of a real-life Vietnam War POW Camp story, I noticed that one of the producers was Elton Brand. I was like, “There’s no way it’s Los Angeles Clippers forward and NBA All-Star Elton Brand, right? Right?” Then I stopped the movie, and looked it up online, and sure enough, there are pictures of Elton at the premiere towering over Herzog and stars Christian Bale, Steve Zahn & Jeremy Davies. Needless to say, that represented the biggest surprise of the entire film — Elton Brand is a Werner Herzog fan?? Next, you’ll be telling me that Amare Stoudemire is producing the next Wim Wenders film, or Baron Davis produced an obscure British movie in 2005 starring Sir Ian McKellen. Oh wait, that last one happened.
As far as the actual movie goes, it’s based on a documentary Herzog made awhile ago about Dieter Denglar (Bale), an American fighter pilot whose plan goes down on his first mission, one of the covert, illegal bombing missions over Laos just before the Vietnam War. He is subsequently captured and held in a POW camp, where he meets fellow captors played by Zahn & Davies. Everything before his capture is borderline unwatchable — the directing and acting are done in a weird sort of old-timey style, it’s hard to describe except that it did not feel like a movie that was made in the last twenty years. Luckily, that doesn’t last very long and the film picks up steam when Dieter gets into the POW camp, and there are some very effective scenes throughout the movie, though it is somewhat uneven.
Bale is one of my favorite actors, and while this role isn’t quite as grueling as losing 90 pounds for The Machinist, he does drop quite a bit of weight and endure actual torture scenes. Also, he eats live maggots, which is absolutely fucking disgusting. However, for all that commitment, it is the worst performance I’ve seen him give, which means he’s still decent, but it was disappointing. It takes him entirely too long to find a consistency in his character and in trying to imitate a real person, he somehow feels inauthentic. However, Zahn and Davies (frighteningly skinny) are both great, Zahn as a somewhat naive pushover, and Davies in his wheelhouse as a manic prisoner losing his grip on reality.
Overall, it is an interesting story, there are some cool jungle scenes (it is definitely the type of movie where the score is distracting and wholly unnecessary), and a couple of good supporting performances, but ultimately the movie is kind of forgettable, except for who produced it — it definitely wins the title for best movie made by a combination NBA All-Star producer and cult German director.