rescue dawn (2006)
This week has been a bit surreal, to be honest, as the film world lost two of its greatest artists in one unbelievable day. The death of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni hit me harder than it should have, actually, they were both extremely old and accomplished men, they had lived their lives and deserve their rest. As Altman reminded us in his final film, just before his own passing last November, "the death of an old man is not a tragedy". It does, however, make me appreciate twice as much as I did before, those few classic filmmakers who still survive to keep practicing their craft, to keep filling the film canon of the world with their fantastic images and lasting creations. Herzog, who made a number of great films in the 1970's, including one of my personal favorites, Aguirre: The Wrath of God, is not exactly counted in the high ranks that Bergman and Antonioni were, but he's one of the best we still have without a doubt. His new film, Rescue Dawn is a fine piece of work, from a man who knows what he's doing, and executes it without hesitation. The film, as a whole, never ended up coming together in the way I had hoped it would, but it was an honor enough to see his new work in a theater. It offers many great moments, but the sum of its parts reveal something sorely lacking. Let's recount the experience of Rescue Dawn.
I should really, in all fairness, be giving this thing more credit than I am. I mean it's Herzog for God's sake. He directs with precision, he doesn't cut every 5 seconds, he doesn shake the camera around like an idiot. When compared to any other director today, he's a God. But, when it comes to being a Herzog movie, it's slightly underwhelming. But hey, still solid, I mean consider the great moments this thing has. That long opening shot of the plane bombing the Vietnamese villages, that tense, thrilling escape from the war camp, those haunting nights in a dark, dense jungle. This thing is like Bresson, and many comparisons have been drawn to his film A Man Escapes. There was something about that film that made it work better, though, and even the fact that I'm taking a modern day film and trying to rationalize a low grade by comparing it to Bresson speaks of this thing's quality. Were I to review Transformers or Pirates of the Carribean by those same standards, they would each have gotten about a 1. So, in that case, it's a very good film, no doubts about it. I dunno, maybe I'm just rambling now. So back to what works about the film and a bit of what doens't. Bale. Christian Bale does an outstanding job. And for Herzog's slightly warped and insane style he is a perfect match. The presentation of our hero is such dead-on almost idiotic optimism, it's the perfect caricature, almost like Timothy Treadwell in Herzog's documentary Grizzly Man, and just like in that film, Herzog approaches him with the deepest respect and sincerity. It's great. That usually Herzog sense of humor is there as always, but it's the kind of humor where nothing is played for humor, stuff is just ... funny. I can't really think another way to put it than that. He never sinks to gags, but comid relief is always present. Though, when things heat up, they heat up. He can change tone at whim, and it's always effective. It's as if we watched the film in tiny segments, each segment would be effective, however, at the end of the day the collective film doesn't ever have much to say, nor did we experience anything out of the ordinary, Herzog gets the job done in inventive ways, but I was never actually moved, never really found something to latch onto about the picture in the way that Aguirre gave me, there was nothing in Rescue Dawn that seperated itself form the other aspects of it. But to call it bland would be a lie. It's a very hard film to truly pin down, kind of like Herzog himself. Well, in any case, it's not like there's much negative to the film, in fact, that may be the problem, I just don't know that there's all that much to the film. The ending, which I won't discuss, is extremely perplexing and comes off as tongue-in-cheek, but Herzog has been sincere up until there so what's the deal? somehow I think he's serious. Well, you'll know what I'm talking about when you see it.
Anyway, what the film does have going for it are strong, strong visuals. The jungle comes to life with an ever-increasing presence of enclosure and malice. "the jungle is the prison" we are told, and the visuals drive it home. I appluad the work done here in the cinematography, and the way that Herzog utilizes his long takes with plenty of aparatus movement that keep us firmly in this picture at all times. Herzog belongs in the jungle and that's all there is to it. In fact, I have never seen a film of his that is set indoors, though, granted, I've only seen 4 of his films. He is a director of nature, his camera trains its eye on the vast and mysterious world, and its strange and obsessive inhabitants. He, himself, is all of these things rolled into one. He is Dieter Dangler, he is Timothy Treadwell, he is Aguirre. This mad German icon that latches onto his film projects with a fervor that may seem unhealthy, but in fact I feel it's fantastic. Now I'm rambling all over the place. This review is a bit muddled, yeah, I'm going to have to admit it. Is it about the film? Is it about Herzog? Am I still wondering about the state of cinema now that the Bergman and Antonioni flames have really, truly gone out? Sure, all of those things as a matter of fact. Let's get real here, we're calling this whole thing off. No more review, no more nothing. For some reason or another I'm not really able to articulate the faults and triumphs of the film in a way that's really working out for me, let alone is probably interesting to read, so hey, is there anything you'd like to talk about instead? Or maybe I could just keep going and see if anyone keeps reading. Would you do that? Keep reading let's see where this goes. Nah, forget it, we'll just keep this short and sweet. Rescue Dawn. A film by Werner Herzog. Starring Chritian Bale. The story of Dieter Dangler, captured on his first mission who escapes form a prisoner of war camp. Featuring stunning cinematography, a plot that is literally no more complex than what I just listed. Some great performances, some extremely defined direction from a master who's been at this for decades. There's nothing much more to it, it was great seeing his film in a theater, I epected a bit more but got just enough. That is all. I'm going to end the review and give the movie a 6, that seems like an extremely fair grade to me. Alright, we're done here. Totally over. I'm not even going to proofread and correct those spelling mistakes, forget it.