And I have a new rule. From now on, whenever anyone talks about how filmmakers (or artists in general) do their best work early in their careers and run out of ideas/passion/talent later, I must mention Werner Herzog as the best counter-example ever. After 45 years of making great films, Mr. Herzog is doing some of his best work. Even his failures ("Wild Blue Yonder") are at least interesting experiments.
"Rescue Dawn" is a dramatization of events described first-person by Dieter Dengler in Herzog's excellent documentary "Little Dieter Needs To Fly". 10 years later, Herzog revisits the story of Dengler getting shot down in Laos in the early part of the Vietnam War and his harrowing captivity and amazing escape. Astonishingly, even in a movie that is literally derived from his earlier work, the story doesn't feel at all derivative. Each movie could and does stand on its own, and together they reinforce and inform each other. Christian Bale stars (and reprises his skeletal frame from "The Machinist") as Dengler, a German born American Navy pilot who fell in love with aviation when he saw the American planes bombing his hometown as a child. If you've seen "Little Dieter Needs To Fly", you know his story, but somehow even knowing how it'll all turn out there's a real sense of tension, reality, and suspense in "Rescue Dawn". Shooting in the jungles of Thailand certainly had a lot to do with it, but Bale's performance also carries it, along with his fellow captors Jeremy Davies and Steve Zahn (by the way, it's great to see him in a good movie again after quite a string of crap).
I don't really know how to end this review or continue heaping praise on this movie. I'm only disappointed that it's last showing in the bay area is tonight (9:40 at the Elmwood in Berkeley), because I'd love to see it again. This is quite possibly my favorite movie of the year (and for those keeping score, that's out of 333 feature-length programs, with just a handful of repeats).