Rescue Dawn is a 2006 American epic war drama film written and
directed by Werner Herzog, based on an adapted screenplay written from
his 1997 documentary film Little Dieter Needs to Fly. The film stars
Christian Bale, and is based on the true story of German-American
pilot Dieter Dengler, who was shot down and captured by villagers
sympathetic to the
Pathet Lao during an American military campaign in
the Vietnam War. Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, Pat Healy, and Toby Huss
also have principal roles. The film project, which had initially come
together during 2004, began shooting in
Thailand in August 2005.
3.3 Music and soundtrack
4 Historical accuracy
5.1 Critical response
5.3 Box office
5.4 Home media
6 See also
8 External links
In February 1966, while on a combat mission, Lt. Dieter Dengler, a
German-born U.S. Navy pilot in squadron VA-145, flying from the
carrier USS Ranger, is shot down in his
Douglas A-1 Skyraider
Douglas A-1 Skyraider over
Laos. He survives the crash, only to be captured by the Pathet Lao.
Dengler is offered leniency by the province governor, if he will sign
a document condemning America, but he refuses. Dengler is tortured and
taken to a prison camp. There he meets his fellow prisoners: American
pilots Gene DeBruin and Duane W. Martin, Y.C., Procet and Phisit, some
of whom have been captives for years.
Dengler immediately plans to escape, but receives only grudging
approval from the others. All are suffering from malnutirution,
unhygienic conditions and abuse by the guards. After some months the
food supply worsens further, and they learn that the starving guards
are planning to kill them and return to their village, so the
prisoners agree to put the long-prepared plan into action. This
involves escaping through a weakened place in the perimeter fence,
dividing into two groups, circling the perimeter fence in opposite
directions, converging on the guard hut during the lunch hour to
overwhelm the guards, and contacting the American forces for rescue.
Due to one party of prisoners disobeying Dengler's orders, the escape
does not go to plan and nearly all the guards end up being shot. With
insufficient equipment and supplies, the prisoners disperse in the
jungle. Dengler and Martin form one group, while Gene and Y.C. leave
together to an uncertain fate.
Dengler and Martin try to reach the
Mekong River to cross over into
Thailand, fashioning a crude raft, but are caught in rapids and a
waterfall. After losing their raft, Dengler and Martin are soon found
by a mob of angry villagers, who kill Martin. Dengler escapes and
flees back into the jungle, hiding from the pursuing villagers. A few
days later, he is rescued by an American helicopter. Back at the U.S.
compound he is taken to, Dengler is kept isolated in a hospital for
debriefing due to the classified nature of his mission. He is visited
by some of the men from his squadron, who covertly take him back to
his ship, where he is welcomed as a hero by the crew.
Christian Bale as Dieter Dengler
Steve Zahn as Duane Martin
Jeremy Davies as Gene DeBruin
Marshall Bell as Admiral Berrington
François Chau as Province Governor
Galen Yuen as Y.C.
Apichart Chusakul as Phisit (as Abhijati "Muek" Jusakul)
Lek Chaiyan Chunsuttiwat as Procet (as Chaiyan "Lek" Chunsuttiwat)
Craig Gellis as Corporal Grunt
Zach Grenier as Squad Leader
Pat Healy as Norman
Toby Huss as Spook
Apichart Chusakul as Pisidhi Indradat
Yuttana Muenwaja as Crazy Horse
Teerawat Mulvilai as Little Hitler
Dieter Dengler in 1966
Rescue Dawn is based on the true story of Dieter Dengler, a
charismatic pilot who was shot down in Laos while on a covert attack
mission for the
United States Navy
United States Navy during the Vietnam War. A few
months after being captured in 1966, Dengler and other POWs who were
being held captive targeted July 4 for their mass escape. The
prisoners had overheard the guards in mid-June planning to kill all of
them and return to their villages because a drought had caused a
severe shortage of food and water. The POWs decided they could not
wait any longer to make their escape.
Dengler and fellow POW
Duane W. Martin made their eventual run from
their prisoner camp into dense jungle. Martin was killed by an enraged
Laotian villager, but Dengler was able to continue on. Two rescue
helicopters were scrambled to rescue Dengler, dropping a cable down to
the human figure they spotted below. They winched him on board, but
fearful that he could be a Viet Cong suicide bomber, the crew pinned
the man to the helicopter floor and searched him. His backpack turned
out to contain only a half-eaten snake. Dengler, exhausted by his
ordeal, whispered: "I am an American pilot. Please take me home."
Director Herzog's fascination with the cruelties of man and nature
interested him in the 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly
about Dengler's experiences in captivity. He chose to revisit the
story in a cinematic theatrical version with
Christian Bale portraying
Dengler. Compared to Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Rescue Dawn
understates the suffering of the prisoners, including omitting some of
the worst torture experienced by Dengler. Herzog did not want to
glorify the prisoners' woes, as the film is rated PG-13.
Director Werner Herzog
Principal photography took place over 44 days in Thailand. In
preparation for the roles, the actors playing the prisoners spent
several months losing weight. Since weight gain is accomplished more
quickly than weight loss, the film was shot in reverse, with Bale
fully regaining his weight during the course of the shoot. The film
includes the first major use of digital visual effects in Herzog's
career; the shots of Dengler's flight while airborne were created
digitally. The crash itself, however, is live action.
Music and soundtrack
The original motion picture soundtrack for Rescue Dawn, was released
Milan Records label on June 26, 2007. It features classical
music, with considerable use of the cello and piano. The score for the
film was orchestrated by Klaus Badelt. Original songs written by
musical artists Ernst Reijseger, Patty Hill, Craig Eastman, and Jack
Shaindlin among others, were used in between dialogue shots throughout
the film. Peter Austin edited the music.
Rescue Dawn: Music From The Motion Picture
1) Dieter's Theme
4) Sign This
5) Gathering Rice
6) The Plan
7) After The Fire
9) Operation Rescue Dawn
10) It's Him
11) Keep Your Head Down
12) America Gave Me Wings
16) Lights (
Rescue Dawn Version)
17) Dieter's Theme Reprise
18) This Is How I Remember Him
Dengler flew an
A-1 Skyraider aircraft.
The film depicts six prisoners in the camp, while in real life there
were seven. Herzog says that he found the scripting to be difficult
with seven characters, and that six was a more manageable number.
Jerry DeBruin, brother of Gene DeBruin, created a website critical of
Herzog and the film, claiming that several characters and events have
been falsely portrayed. On the same website, Pisidhi Indradat, the
other survivor of the group, has also stated that the film contains
inaccuracies. The website claims that during his imprisonment, DeBruin
taught his cellmates English, shared his food, and even returned after
escaping to help an injured cellmate. In the film, Dengler formulates
the entire escape plan, along with uncuffing the handcuffs with the
nail. According to Jerry DeBruin, the prisoners waited for two weeks
before telling him of the plan, which had been devised before his
Herzog acknowledged that DeBruin acted heroically during his
imprisonment, refusing to leave while some sick prisoners remained.
Herzog states he was unaware of this fact until after the film had
been completed; however,
Pisidhi Indradat and Jerry DeBruin stated
they made multiple attempts to meet with Herzog to ensure the film's
accuracy, but to no avail. Herzog states that this narrative
aspect probably would have been included had he learned it earlier.
In real life, Dengler spoke English with a heavy German accent which
was reduced in Bale's portrayal "to almost zero".
Rescue Dawn was distributed by
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer theatrically in the
United States, and by Pathé Distribution, Hopscotch Films and Central
Film GmbH in foreign markets. It was originally scheduled to be
released by MGM in December 2006, but was held back for limited
release in the United States until 2007, with the full release on July
27 following a limited release in New York City, Toronto and Los
Angeles on July 4. The film score was written by German composer Klaus
Badelt, after previously working with Herzog in his 2001 film
Invincible. The soundtrack was released on June 26, 2007.
Preceding its theatrical run,
Rescue Dawn was generally met with
positive critical reviews before its initial screening in cinemas.
Among mainstream critics in the United States, the film received
almost exclusively positive reviews.
Rotten Tomatoes reported that
91% of 162 sampled critics review gave the film a positive review,
with an average score of 7.5 out of 10. Its consensus reads, "Director
Werner Herzog has once again made a compelling tale of man versus
Christian Bale completely immerses himself in the role of
fighter pilot (and prisoner of war) Dieter Dengler."
"In Rescue Dawn, filmed in the jungles of Thailand, there is never the
slightest doubt we are in the jungle. No movie stars creeping behind
potted shrubbery on a back lot. The screen always looks wet and green,
and the actors push through the choking vegetation with difficulty. We
can almost smell the rot and humidity."
—Roger Ebert, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times
Kirk Honeycutt, writing in The Hollywood Reporter, said actor Bale's
performance was "most complex and compelling". He praised the director
Herzog for his use of "lush jungle locations in Thailand, eloquent
camera work and an unobtrusive but powerful music score" which brought
to life the "story of a man in the wilderness battling the elements on
his own terms".
Roger Ebert in the
Chicago Sun-Times called Rescue Dawn,
"perhaps the most believable [movie] that Herzog has made". while
exclaiming, "There is nothing in it we cannot, or do not, believe. I
was almost prepared to compare it to the classic storytelling of John
Huston when I realized it had crucial Herzogian differences".
In the San Francisco Chronicle, Walter Addiego wrote that the film was
"an old-fashioned prisoner-of-war movie that becomes much more because
of writer-director Werner Herzog's admiration for the remarkable true
story of its protagonist, Dieter Dengler". He thought the director
"found an actor capable of conveying the Herzog-ian hero—wounded, a
holy fool, a crackpot, a dreamer of outsized dreams—in
Scott Bowles of USA Today, said the film was "cold and unforgiving and
chilling to behold". He declared, "War stories don't get much more
harrowing or detached than Rescue Dawn, and that's both blessing and
curse for the
Werner Herzog film."
The film, however, was not without its detractors. Rick Groen of The
Globe and Mail, felt that, "The strangely hybrid result, half Herzog
and half Hollywood, plays like its own battleground. Sometimes, the
tension is fascinatingly productive; other times, all we get is the
worst of both worlds". Equally unimpressed was Paula Nechak of the
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who called
Rescue Dawn "a noble effort
that can't quite make itself unique in a saturated genre". She added,
director Herzog "already has covered much of the tropical terrain of
his long-delayed action film in his 1997 documentary Little Dieter
Needs To Fly". Alternatively, J. Hoberman of The Village Voice,
said the film "rivals
Apocalypto as a jungle marathon, has all this
and more". He also noted, "Bale even looks authentically starved (as
in The Machinist). But seeing Dengler's adventure staged hardly seems
more real than hearing his account—although, as conventionally
framed and lit as it is,
Rescue Dawn is the closest thing to a 'real'
movie that Herzog has ever made."
Writing for The New York Times, Matt Zoller Seitz said the "story’s
basis in fact doesn’t inoculate it against charges of
predictability. Klaus Badelt’s score can be intrusively emphatic.
And the triumphant ending—in which Dengler is welcomed back to his
carrier with applause and speeches—is disappointingly
conventional". Overall though, he did commend the film, stating,
"'Rescue Dawn' is a marvel: a satisfying genre picture that challenges
the viewer’s expectations".
James Berardinelli writing for ReelViews, called Rescue Dawn, "a solid
effort from Herzog that fans of the genre should actively seek out"
and noted that "Herzog understood when he made Little Dieter Needs to
Fly that the ex-pilot's story would make an excellent feature. It's
surprising it has taken him so long to make that movie."
Berardinelli also commented that "
Christian Bale continues to amaze
with his ability and range. He may be the most versatile under-40
performer today. No role seems to be beyond him, and he has worked
with some of the best directors of his era".
Describing some pitfalls, Elizabeth Weitzman of the NY Daily News said
there was "an odd emotional disconnect leading up to the climactic
escape, which can be traced directly to the performances".
Weitzman, however, was quick to admit that "Herzog builds suspense
from the start, and the movie is shot spectacularly." But
ultimately, she was disappointed, saying, "There is a great movie in
Werner Herzog's Vietnam saga, Rescue Dawn. Unfortunately, it's about
30 minutes too long. Although the rest of this based-on-truth
adventure is woven with powerful moments, only toward the end will it
hold you completely in its grip."
"In a story that begs for some introspection and understanding of what
is going on inside its lead character, this Dieter has only the Tom
Cruise cockiness that made
Top Gun such an iconic experience for
filmgoers in the '80s. But by now we've seen the formulaic pattern
again and again in summer blockbusters ..."
—Paula Nechak, writing for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post, stated that
Rescue Dawn was "an
original addition to the war film canon. It's an instant classic of
the form, a portrait of courage and sacrifice at their most stirring,
but subversively resisting cant and cliche". She believed that
"such a masterful depiction of American heroism and can-do spirit has
been created by a German art film director known for considerably
darker visions of obsession is an irony Herzog no doubt finds
delicious". She also emphasized how "There's a sense of austerity
underlying Rescue Dawn, all the more admirable for being so rare in
David Ansen wrote in
Newsweek that "
Rescue Dawn is a Werner
Herzog movie (and a true story), and though it's as taut and exciting
as many edge-of-your-seat Hollywood escape movies, there's a mania
about Dieter that sets him apart, a wild-eyed bravado that suggests
the line between bravery and complete lunacy is a thin one."
Michael Phillips, in the Chicago Tribune, however, was not moved by
the storytelling. He described his negativity saying "
Rescue Dawn is
Herzog's first English-language screenplay, and this is part of its
problem: The hushed conversations between prisoners sound only
fitfully idiomatic. Also – crucially – Herzog can't find a way to
make his own big finish feel authentic, even if things did happen
roughly this way." Critic
Leonard Maltin though, wrote that Rescue
Dawn was a "Gripping reworking of Herzog's 1997 documentary Little
Dieter Needs to Fly". He praised the film, calling it an
"edge-of-your-seat POW story".
At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average out of 100 to critics'
Rescue Dawn received a score of 77 based on 36 reviews.
Various critics included the film on their lists for the top 10 best
films of the year; such as V. A. Musetto of the New York Post, who
called it one of the best films of 2007.
Following its cinematic release in 2007,
Rescue Dawn was nominated for
multiple awards, including a
Golden Satellite Award and an Independent
Among other nominations,
Rescue Dawn was considered for the Golden
Satellite Awards in the categories of "Best Supporting Male", "Best
Supporting Actor" and "Best Actor in a Drama". The film
garnered a win for actor
Christian Bale from the San Diego Film
Critics Society in the category of "Body of Work".
Rescue Dawn grossed $5,490,423 in U.S. ticket receipts during a
17-week theatrical run and earned $1,686,720 outside the United
States, for a total gross revenue of $7,177,143. For 2007 as a
whole, the film ranked 178th in box office performance. It was
considered a financial failure due to its $10 million budget. The film
did recoup its losses from $24,747,717 earned from
DVD rentals and
The film opened via limited release on July 4, 2007 in the United
States. During its opening weekend, the film grossed $110,326 at six
locations. Its official wide release was on July 24, 2007. Opening in
a distant 11th place, the film earned $1,650,282, showing at 500
Rescue Dawn's revenue dropped by 66% in its second week of release,
earning $560,903 and falling to 18th place.
Following its cinematic release in theaters, the Region 1 Code
widescreen edition of
Rescue Dawn was released on
DVD by MGM Home
Entertainment in the United States on November 20, 2007. Special
features for the
DVD include: an audio commentary by Herzog and
interviewer Norman Hill. Other extra include featurettes The Making of
a True Story, Unfinished Business: Telling Dieter's Story, Strength of
Character, War Stories and What Would Dieter Do? In addition, three
deleted scenes with optional commentary by Herzog and Hill, and a
still photo gallery are also included.
The widescreen hi-definition
Blu-ray version was released at the same
Special features include audio commentary by Herzog and Hill,
deleted scenes with optional commentary by Herzog and Hill. Other
extras include featurettes The Making of a True Story (multi-part
documentary), Honoring the Brave (interactive memorial), Preparing for
Survival, Before the Dawn Mission Secrets (trivia track), a photo
gallery and the theatrical trailer in high definition format.
According to the website The Numbers, estimates on
DVD sales revenue
in the United States totalled $24,747,717.
Survival film, about the film genre, with a list of related films
Air America (airline)
Air America (film)
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ants: The story behind one PoW's incredible escape from Vietnam."
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^ a b Nechak, Paula. "Pilot's desperate jungle escape saga fails to
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^ Hoberman, J. "Man down."
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The Village Voice June 26, 2007. December
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^ a b Berardinelli, James. "Review: 'Rescue Dawn' (United States,
2006)." ReelViews, July 2007. Retrieved: December 14, 2015.
^ a b c Weitzman, Elizabeth. "Flawed movie, great escape." NY Daily
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^ a b c Hornaday Ann. "Review: 'Rescue Dawn'." The Washington Post,
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^ Ansen, David. "Jungle Feverishness." Newsweek, June 28, 2007.
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^ Maltin 2008, p. 1145.
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Werner Herzog @ Fresh Air, w/ Terry Gross - 07-25-07
Rescue Dawn: The Truth
Story Of Escape, Pisidhi Indradat
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