Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Unseen #14: Veterans Day Edition: Rescue Dawn

For those new to my blog The Unseen is a semi regular feature I do in which I explore films that I own, but have never seen. The number of which is higher then it has any right to be. Sometimes I get pleasantly surprised, sometimes not so much. Sometimes a dog pisses on the ashes of Freddy Krueger and Dokken sings. Either way it’s always interesting.

The Unseen #14- Veterans Day Edition: Rescue Dawn

Why’d I buy it?: I’m a huge Werner Herzog fan. I’ve been lucky enough to meet the man twice both of which rank as surreal ass experiences. The idea of being able to buy one of his films at a big box store made me kind of giddy.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: Like I said no Goddamn idea. I love Herzog, I love Bale, I love the original documentary Little Dieter Needs To Fly. And I loved the utterly subversive notion of a Werner Herzog film playing in the multiplexes where normal people could be exposed to his mutant filmmaking rays. But for whatever reason, I missed it in the theaters, and then despite the fact that I bought the DVD the first day it was out, it just sat their on the shelf accusing me. I don’t know why I never made the time to watch it. I mean yeah a harrowing story about a Vietnamese prison camp maybe not the first thing you wanna pop on after a hard days work. But really, I never made time for a new Herzog film? Really?

How Was It?: Pretty fucking great. The film was exactly what it promised to be. A real Herzog, driven to the limits of human experience, film that somehow managed to get released by a major studio. I’m pretty much a gushing fanboy when it comes to Herzog’s style, so bear with me, but the thing I love about the man is that he never seems to have seen a movie other then his own before. He genuinely plays by his own rules. Check out the scene where Dieter’s first shot down. The laws of narrative expediency tells us that Dieter will surely be captured right here. Herzog instead delivers a fifteen minute mini odyssey depicting Dieter’s first battle with the jungle. Basically a brutal tone poem, It’s the kind of left turn no one else would do, maybe Malick but Malick would never even conceive of shooting it with such an unromantic eye. Herzog does it perfectly.

Once Bale is finally captured, the film slips into a different gear. Herzog has never been accused of being a great humanist (at least not in his narrative films) but the relationship he creates between Bale and Steven Zahn is the movies frail doomed heart. The only real problem with the movie is Jeremy Davis’s ultra twitchy performance as a fellow POW whose gone round the bend. I’m not a Davis hater, in fact I usually enjoy his idiosyncratic style (“I could tell you what's happening… but I don't know if it would really tell you what's happening.”) but Jesus the man took the twitchy up to eleven.

The movie continues with Herzog’s pet themes of extreme behavior (watch an A list star choke down maggots), the pitilessness of nature, the bounds of human physical and mental endurance, and human folly (The death of Zahn is so stupid and pitiful and pointless that it’ll break your heart).

Rescue Dawn is a truly great film, and deserves its place Herzog’s Oeuvre.

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