As a good film scholar/geek, I have tried to enjoy the films of Werner Herzog over the years, but I haven't yet seen enough of them to find many that I particularly like, although I respect them as good films. That's a discreet way of telling you that I nearly fell asleep during The Wild Blue Yonder, can't remember a thing about Heart of Glass or Aguirre: The Wrath of God when I watched them for classes in college and haven't yet seen Fitzcarraldo, although it's on my list. In short, I'm not a rabid Herzog fan, which may actually be the reason why I liked his latest film, Rescue Dawn, as much as I did. Based on Herzog's 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly, this fictional adaptation has a typical linear narrative structure and tells a clear and unambiguous story.
Christian Bale stars as the aforementioned Dieter Dengler, who has wanted nothing more in life but to be a fighter pilot (thus the title of the documentary). The film is set during the Vietnam War, and you know from the first scene, a group of U.S. Navy pilots watching a lame survival film, that someone's going to get lost in the wilds. Sure enough, Dieter's plane is shot down over Laos, in a strikingly gorgeous and terrifying jungle. Dieter is eventually captured and taken to a POW camp in the middle of the jungle, where the Viet Cong jailers don't seem to be in much better condition than the prisoners. His fellow prisoners include Gene (Jeremy Davies) and Duane (Steve Zahn), all half-crazed from the terrible conditions. However, Dieter is determined to escape -- he wants to survive, and fly again.