We gave it an A-
If you’ve ever wondered what a highminded, art-house-friendly version of Rambo: First Blood Part II might look like, this is as close as you’ll probably ever get. Werner Herzog, the legendary German director of wild-and-woolly classics like Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, and Grizzly Man, revisits the harrowing survival story of U.S. Navy pilot Dieter Dengler, the subject of his acclaimed 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Shot down in the early days of the Vietnam War, Dengler (Christian Bale) was imprisoned and tortured in a brutal Laotian POW camp for six months. After painstakingly concocting an escape plan, Dengler finally managed to flee into the jungle along with fellow captive Duane Martin (Steve Zahn), among others, surviving for weeks against impossible odds while desperately hoping for rescue.
The filming of this dramatized version of Dengler’s inspiring tale in remote areas of Thailand was in itself a kind of endurance test, mentally and physically, says Zahn. He dropped 40 pounds for his role, yet, driven on by the unstoppable Herzog, had to contend in his weakened state with dense jungle, raging rivers, and other perils. ”We’d be walking barefoot through jungle no one has ever walked through, with thorns and snakes and whatever. Sometimes Christian and I would just sit in a rice paddy and laugh, like, ‘Can you believe this?’ It was intense…. I’d need a 12-pack in the backyard and a full five hours to tell all the stories.” (July 4)