Rescue Dawn

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Rescue Dawn
Rescue Dawn poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Werner Herzog
Produced by Freddy Braidy
Jimmy De Brabant
Michael Dounaev
Gerald Green
Kami Naghdi
Nick N. Raslan
Elie Samaha
Written by Werner Herzog
Starring Christian Bale
Steve Zahn
Jeremy Davies
Music by Klaus Badelt
Ernst Reijseger
Cinematography Peter Zeitlinger
Edited by Joe Bini
Gibraltar Films
Thema Production
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • September 9, 2006 (2006-09-09) (Toronto International Film Festival)
  • July 4, 2007 (2007-07-04) (United States)
Running time
125 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10 million[2]
Box office $7,177,143[3]

Rescue Dawn is a 2006 American war drama film 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. Executive producers were Freddy Braidy, Jimmy De Brabant, Michael Dounaev, and Gerald Green, among others.

The film was made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Gibraltar Films and Thema Production. It was distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer theatrically in the United States, and by Pathé Distribution, Hopscotch Films and Central Film GmbH in foreign markets. In home media format, the film was distributed by MGM Home Entertainment. 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, while the DVD and Blu-ray Disc versions of the film were released on November 20.

The film grossed $5,490,423 in U.S. ticket receipts, and earned $1,686,720 outside the United States to give a total gross of revenue of $7,177,143. The film was considered a financial failure due to its $10 million budget. The film recouped its losses from $24,747,717 of DVD rental and sales. Preceding its theatrical run, the film was generally met with positive critical reviews before its initial screening in cinemas. Following its cinematic release, the film was nominated for multiple awards, including a Golden Satellite Award and an Independent Spirit Award. It also won an award from the San Diego Film Critics Society for actor Christian Bale in the category of Body of Work.


Dieter Dengler, a German-born U.S. Navy pilot in squadron VA-145, is shot down in his A-1 Skyraider over Laos in February 1966, while on a combat mission. He survives the crash only to be pursued, and ultimately captured, by the Pathet Lao. Dengler is given the chance for leniency by the Province Governor if he signs a document condemning America, but he refuses. He is tortured and taken to a prison camp. There he meets fellow American military soldiers and pilots, such as Gene DeBruin and Duane W. Martin, along with Y.C., Procet, and Phisit, some of whom have been captive for years. Dengler begins planning an escape, much to the disbelief of his fellow combatants, who have been downtrodden through physical and psychological torture by the camp guards.

When the rebels are all dining in the kitchen, the prisoners finally escape from the camp. But before they can do that, Dengler retrieves the unattended rifles and kills some of the rebels, who are in the kitchen. Procet, Phisit, Y.C., and Gene — who are being told by Dengler to meet in kitchen, did not show up. After they get out, Dengler meet Gene and Y.C., and Dengler confronts Gene for not showing up in the kitchen. Gene and Y.C. going away in an uncertain fate. The fate of other prisoners are unknown.

Dengler and Martin try to reach the Mekong River to cross over into Thailand, but Martin is killed by a mob of angry villagers. Dengler quickly heads back to the jungle and then hides from the pursuing villagers. Eventually, Dengler is rescued by an American helicopter but isolated in a hospital for debriefing due to the classified nature of his mission. He is visited by some of his squadron who covertly take him back to his ship, where he is welcomed as a hero by the crew.


Christian Bale
Christian Bale  ... Dieter Dengler
Steve Zahn  ... Duane Martin
Jeremy Davies  ... Gene DeBruin
Marshall Bell  ... Admiral Berrington
François Chau  ... Province Governor
Craig Gellis  ... Corporal
Zach Grenier  ... Squad Leader
Pat Healy  ... Norman
Toby Huss  ... Spook
Apichart Chusakul  ... Pisidhi Indradat
Yuttana Muenwaja  ... Crazy Horse
Teerawat Mulvilai  ... Little Hitler



Rescue Dawn is based on the true story of Dieter Dengler, the charismatic pilot who was shot down in Laos while on a covert attack mission flying for the United States Navy during the Vietnam War.[4] 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.[4] 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.[5] They winched him on board. Fearful that he could be a Viet Cong suicide bomber the crew pinned the man to the helicopter deck 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."[5]

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.[6] 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.[6]


Dieter Dengler in 1966

The film was shot in 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.[7] The film includes the first major occurrence of digital visual effects in Herzog's career. Because very few authentic A-1 Skyraiders remained flightworthy at the time of the production, the shots of Dengler's flight while airborne were created digitally. The crash itself, however, is live action.[7]

Music and soundtrack[edit]

The original motion picture soundtrack for Rescue Dawn, was released by the Milan Records label on June 26, 2007. It features classical music composed with the considerable use of the cello and piano musical instruments. The score for the film was orchestrated by Klaus Badelt.[8] 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 film's music.[9]

Rescue Dawn: Music From The Motion Picture

Track listing:

1) Dieter's Theme  – (3:23)
2) Journey  – (1:22)
3) Hope  – (5:28)
4) Sign This  – (1:33)
5) Gathering Rice  – (1:48)
6) The Plan  – (2:24)
7) After The Fire  – (1:56)
8) Rain  – (2:58)
9) Operation Rescue Dawn  – (2:43)
10) It's Him  – (4:07)
11) Keep Your Head Down  – (0:54)
12) America Gave Me Wings  – (1:58)
13) Mirror  – (1:46)
14) Sleepwalkers  – (2:42)
15) Rescue  – (4:45)
16) Lights (Rescue Dawn Version)  – (4:20)
17) Dieter's Theme Reprise  – (1:49)
18) This Is How I Remember Him  – (2:35)

Historical accuracy[edit]

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.[7]

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 arrival.[10]

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 state they made multiple attempts to meet with Herzog to ensure the film's accuracy but to no avail.[10] Herzog states that this narrative aspect probably would have been included had he learned it earlier.[7] In real life, Dengler spoke English with a heavy German accent which was reduced in Bale's portrayal "to almost zero".[11]


Critical response[edit]

Among mainstream critics in the United States, the film received almost exclusively positive reviews.[12] Rotten Tomatoes reported that 91% of 160 sampled critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 7.5 out of 10.[13] At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average out of 100 to critics' reviews, the film received a score of 77 based on 36 reviews.[12] 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.[14]

"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[15]

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".[16] Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times called the film "perhaps the most believable 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".[15] 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 everyone."[17] 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."[18] 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".[19] Left equally unimpressed was Paula Nechak of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who called the film "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".[20] 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."[21]

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".[22] Overall though, he did commend the film exclaiming "Rescue Dawn is a marvel: a satisfying genre picture that challenges the viewer’s expectations".[22] James Berardinelli writing for ReelViews, called the film "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."[23] Berardinelli also commented how "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".[23] 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".[24] Weitzman however was quick to admit that "Herzog builds suspense from the start, and the movie is shot spectacularly."[24] But ultimately, she disappointedly said, "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."[24]

"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[20]

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".[25] 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".[25] She also emphasized how "There's a sense of austerity underlying Rescue Dawn, all the more admirable for being so rare in Hollywood storytelling."[25] Similarly, 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."[26] However, in the Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips 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."[27] Critic Leonard Maltin though, wrote that Rescue Dawn was a "Gripping reworking of Herzog's 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly". He overly praised the film calling it an "edge-of-your-seat POW story".[28]


The film won and was nominated for several awards in 2007.[29][30] Among awards it was nominated for, were from the Independent Spirit Awards and the Golden Satellite Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Male, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Actor in a Drama.[31][32] The film garnered a win for actor Christian Bale from the San Diego Film Critics Society in the category of Body of Work.[33]

Box office[edit]

The film opened via limited release on July 4, 2007 in the United States. During its opening weekend, the film grossed $110,326 in business showing at six locations. Its official wide release was screened in theaters on July 24, 2007.[3] Opening in a distant 11th place, the film earned $1,650,282 showing at 500 cinemas. The Simpsons Movie soundly beat its competition during that weekend opening in first place with $74,036,787.[34] The film's revenue dropped by 66% in its second week of release, earning $560,903. For that particular weekend, the film fell to 18th place not challenging a top ten position.[35] The film went on to top out domestically at $5,490,423 in total ticket sales through a 17-week theatrical run. Internationally, the film took in an additional $1,686,720 in box office business for a combined worldwide total of $7,177,143.[3] For 2007 as a whole, the film would cumulatively rank at a box office performance position of 178.[36]

Home media[edit]

Director Werner Herzog

Following its cinematic release in theaters, the Region 1 Code widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on November 20, 2007. Special features for the DVD include; Commentary by director Werner Herzog and interviewer Norman Hill; The Making of a True Story featurette: Unfinished Business - Telling Dieter's Story, Strength of Character, War Stories, What Would Dieter Do?; 3 deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Werner Herzog and interviewer Norman Hill; and a Still photo gallery.[37]

The widescreen hi-definition Blu-ray Disc version of the film was also released on November 20, 2007. Special features include, Commentary by director Werner Herzog and interviewer Norman Hill - Deleted scenes with optional commentary by Werner Herzog and Norman Hill; The making of a true story multipart documentary; Honoring the brave interactive memorial; Preparing for survival featurette - before the dawn mission secrets trivia track; Photo gallery; and the Theatrical trailer in high definition format.[38] According to the website The Numbers, estimates on DVD sales revenue in the United States totaled $24,747,717.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "RESCUE DAWN (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. December 8, 2006. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Rescue Dawn". The Numbers. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  3. ^ a b c "Rescue Dawn". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  4. ^ a b "Dieter Dengler's Great Escape from Laotian POW Camp". Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  5. ^ a b "Tortured with razor-sharp bamboo and fed alive to ants: The story behind one PoW's incredible escape from Vietnam". London: 2007-11-23. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  6. ^ a b "How Werner Herzog handles the truth.". Slate. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  7. ^ a b c d Herzog, Werner (Director). (2007). Rescue Dawn [Motion picture]. United States: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
  8. ^ Rescue Dawn Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Retrieved 2010-10-07.
  9. ^ "Rescue Dawn (2007)". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  10. ^ a b "Rescue Dawn: The Truth". Family, Friends of Gene DeBruin Critical of Herzog Film.  Retrieved 2010-10-07.
  11. ^ Klein, Andy (May 24, 2007). "Little Dieter Flies Again". LA CityBeat. Archived from the original on December 16, 2007. Retrieved 2010-09-02. 
  12. ^ a b Rescue Dawn. Metacritic. CNET Networks. Retrieved 2010-10-07.
  13. ^ Rescue Dawn (2007). Rotten Tomatoes. IGN Entertainment. Retrieved 2010-10-07.
  14. ^ "Metacritic: 2007 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on January 2, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-05. 
  15. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (13 July 2007). Rescue Dawn. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  16. ^ Honeycutt, Kirk (3 July 2007). Bottom Line: A small miracle -- a smart popcorn movie. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  17. ^ Addiego, Walter (13 July 2007). A prisoner of war, deep in the jungle, proves he's invincible. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  18. ^ Bowles, Scott (5 July 2007). 'Rescue Dawn' is chillingly good. USA Today. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  19. ^ Groen, Rick (July 2007). Rescue Dawn. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  20. ^ a b Nechak, Paula (12 July 2007). Pilot's desperate jungle escape saga fails to take off. Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  21. ^ Hoberman, J. (26 June 2007). Dramatizing an earlier doc, Werner Herzog takes his hero worship Hollywood. The Village Voice. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  22. ^ a b Seitz, Matt Zoller (4 July 2007). A Vietnam P.O.W. Story, Tangling With the Vines of Convention. The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  23. ^ a b Berardinelli, James (July 2007). Rescue Dawn. ReelViews. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  24. ^ a b c Weitzman, Elizabeth (3 July 2007). Flawed movie, great escape. NY Daily News. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  25. ^ a b c Hornaday Ann, (13 July 2007). Rescue Dawn. The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  26. ^ Ansen, David (28 June 2007). Jungle Feverishness. Newsweek. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  27. ^ Phillips, Michael (July 2007). Rescue Dawn. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  28. ^ Maltin, Leonard (August 5, 2008). Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide. Signet. p. 1145. ISBN 978-0-452-28978-9.
  29. ^ "Rescue Dawn: Awards & Nominations". MSN Movies. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  30. ^ "Rescue Dawn (2007)". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  31. ^ "2007 Awards". Independent Spirit Awards. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  32. ^ "Nominees and Winners 2007 12th Annual SATELLITE Awards". International Press Academy. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  33. ^ "Winners and Nominees". San Diego Film Critics Society. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  34. ^ "July 27–29, 2007 Weekend". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  35. ^ "August 3–5, 2007 Weekend". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  36. ^ "Domestic Total Gross". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  37. ^ "Rescue Dawn Widescreen DVD". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  38. ^ "Rescue Dawn Widescreen Blu-ray". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  39. ^ "Rescue Dawn DVD Sales Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 2008-05-06. 
  • Henderson, Bruce (2010). Hero Found: The Greatest POW Escape of the Vietnam War. Harper. ISBN 978-0-06-157136-7. 
  • Dengler, Dieter (1997). Escape From Laos. Presidio Press. ISBN 978-0-89141-293-9. 
  • Bailey, Lawrence (2003). Solitary Survivor: The First American POW in Southeast Asia. Potomac Books. ISBN 978-1-57488-602-3. 
  • Rowe, James (1984). Five Years to Freedom: The True Story of a Vietnam POW. Presidio Press. ISBN 978-0-345-31460-4. 
  • Anton, Frank (2000). Why Didn't You Get Me Out?: A POW's Nightmare in Vietnam. St. Martin's Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0-312-97488-6. 
  • Wilms, Wilfried (2006). Bombs Away! Representing the Air War over Europe and Japan. Rodopi. ISBN 978-90-420-1759-7. 
  • Prager, Brad (2007). The Cinema of Werner Herzog: Aesthetic Ecstasy and Truth. Wallflower Press. ISBN 978-1-905674-18-3. 

External links[edit]