Review: Rescue Dawn (2006)

(Note: this capsule review is part of my farewell to the Netflix DVD service. #GetThroughMyQueue)

So, even though it wasn’t available for the longest time, this proved to actually be streaming at just the right time on Paramount+ (which of I naturally have, because Star Trek). 

There’s something to be said for using some of the exact same crew you used for the documentary version of the subject (Little Dieter Needs to Fly) and a documentary feel comes out in several scenes. Herzog favors wide, tracking shots throughout which give you a great sense of the space: something you really want for a film where breaking out of a prison camp is a central plot point. Then he intersperses those shots with some handheld medium and close shots when we’re really focusing on the characters. That’s not the exclusive shot list, of course, but if you’ve been watching more frenetic features or close-up TV, you’ll see the difference (myself, I love it).

And the performances from a slew of actors, many of whom you’ll recognize, are first rate. Besides Christian Bale’s driven Dieter Dengler, we have Steve Zahn as a fellow P.O.W. and Jeremy Davies at his off kilter best. Fans of The Expanse will also spot François Chau in a small, but important role.

I highly recommend any filmmakers do a doc-to-docudrama double feature sometime. It really highlights the creative choices between the documentary and narrative versions of the story. I should note that there are apparently some inaccuracies in some of the characterizations in this film, plus the inevitable contraction and distillation of some events, but my take is that it is very truthful and mainly factual.

A solid four stars out of five. People who have seen its non-fiction predecessor may feel like giving it an extra half star because of how much it makes the true story come alive.

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