German director Werner Herzog goes back to the green inferno in Rescue Dawn, an offbeat 'Nam POW drama that harks back to his jungle epics Aguirre, Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo. Christian Bale heads the cast as real-life US bomber pilot Deiter Dengler, shot down over Laos and held captive. A quirky first half of torture, starvation and, um, stinky farts gives way to crazed jungle fever as Dengler leads a great escape into the heart of darkness.
Rescue Dawn is Herzog's second movie about German-born US pilot Deiter Dengler, a fictional retelling of the helmer's 1997 documentary Little Deiter Needs to Fly. He's a fascinating subject and Bale plays him as the optimistic oddball he apparently was, a man obsessed with aviation, an ingenious escape artist and a true survivor. It's the director's most mainstream film, but it's still bizarre - haunted by weird shifts in tone and a supporting cast of whackjob hippie POWs who could be Charlie Manson's next of kin.
"HERZOG COMES INTO HIS OWN"
As Dengler escapes with buddy Duane (Steve Zahn, wild-eyed but surprisingly good), Herzog comes into his own, the dense jungle undergrowth beckoning insanity as these starving, hallucinating prisoners search for rescue. Bale's no Klaus Kinski, but he confirms his Most Masochistic Actor title by tucking into meals of maggots and pulling blood-sucking leeches off his chest like a contestant in I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. Barely ticking any of its boxes - Vietnam movie, biopic, POW drama - Rescue Dawn falls between two (or maybe ten) stools, yet it's never less than engrossing.
Rescue Dawn is released in UK cinemas on Friday 23rd November 2007.