I already knew this story well. A couple years ago I saw and reviewed the excellent documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, a jaw-dropping true-story of survival. The interesting thing was, that director Werner Herzog and real-life-hero Dieter Dengler would have rather been making a fictional feature about his life. At the time they only had the budget for a documentary. Over a decade later, their dream came true with Rescue Dawn. Unfortunately Dieter never got to see the film, I'm sure he would have been proud.
The chameleonish Christian Bale plays Dieter, a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War. Growing up in Germany during WWII, he locked eyes with a pilot who was bombing his town. In that moment, he became obsessed with flying. Moving to America and joining the military was his best chance to do that. He never wanted to be in another war, but that's what he got, and he's the kind of guy that easily rolls with the punches. On his own very first bombing run, he is shot down and left for dead in the extremely dangerous jungles of Laos.
Soon after he's captured by the Vietcong and brought to a small P.O.W. camp with a few other soldiers. The amazing part is under the worst conditions imaginable, he never loses his cool and remains forever positive. While the other soldiers are content wither-away or die, while waiting out the war, he must escape. He comes up with a doable plan and must convince the others to go along with it. They manage to escape their prison, but now they must escape the jungle, which proves to be an even tougher ordeal.
While Rescue Dawn may sound like some kind of Rambo film, it's all very realistically done. And from what I've read and seen in the documentary, it also remains as true as possible to the the real life events. Making Dieter's actions that much more exciting. The film is shot documentary style; nobody makes these films the way that Herzog can. He makes sure that everything is as realistic as possible, and the camera is right there along with them, as they're jumping into rivers and tromping through the impossibly thick jungles.
Mix that with one of the most dedicated actors on the planet, Christian Bale; watch him eat real-live maggots, be drug behind a horse, hung upside down while being pelted by rocks and many other horrible things, and you have one hell of a movie. The film is so in-your-face about it all, that after it's over you'll feel like you've escaped the jungle along with Dieter. While not really a pleasant experience, the film will make you feel proud of human endurance, as it is an incredible true-life story, captured like you're right there with them.