Escapism at its best
Werner Herzog directs a memorable prisoner-of-war drama, while Don Cheadle is excellent in a DJ biopic
TEN YEARS ago, director Werner Herzog charted the exploits of German-born American flier Dieter Dengler in an Emmy Award-nominated documentary. Now, he revisits as fiction the extraordinary story of Dengler’s capture, imprisonment and torture in Laos during the Vietnam War.
Rescue Dawn is essentially a prisonerof-war escape drama. US navy pilot Dengler (Christian Bale) is shot down on his first, top-secret mission over Laos in 1966, taken captive, brutalised and confined in a grim, remote prison camp in the jungle. There he meets two fellow Americans who have been there for two years — Duane (Steve Zahn), whose spirit has been broken, and Gene(JeremyDavies), who believes they are due for imminent release. Soon, Dengler rebels against the hellish conditions and draws his fellow-prisoners into an audacious escape plan…
While the entire film hits hard, the final section with Dangler and Du- ane battling through the jungle in a non-stop living nightmare of storms, leeches, rapids and starvation is truly magnificent, with Herzog using Thai locations to considerable effect.
Zahn steps away from his usual comic persona to deliver a potent performance which Bale — who lost almost as much weight as he did for The Machinist to play the emaciated escapee — is outstanding and award-worthy.
TALK TO ME
DON CHEADLE, abandoning his laughable mockney accent from Ocean’s Eleven and its sequels, happily resumes his normal tones to play reallife former-convict-turned-Washington DC disc jockey Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene Jr in this formulaic but wellmade biopic which tells of how Greene became a legend of the airwaves and a spokesman for African-Americans during the turbulent 1960s.
Cheadle gives an excellent account of himself. In the comic first half he barges his way into a radio job, makes friends with the station’s programme director, Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor, excellent), and then proceeds to make his life hell with his unortho- dox approach to the job and his career. And he holds his own when the second half takes on a more serious tone while director Kasi Lemmons sees to it that her story retains its momentum.
ANTHONY SHAFFER’S ingenious two-hander was a deserved stage success but transferred to the screen less effectively when Laurence Oliver both chewed up the scenery and costar, Michael Caine in Joseph L Mankiewicz’s 1972 film version.
So why remake it? This redundant effort, poorly scripted by Harold Pinter has more twists than a crooked accountant.Sadly,fewofthemarecrediblewhile his “new” ending does to Shaffer what, to quote the great Ernst Lubitsch in To Be or Not to Be, “Hitler did to Poland”.
For the record, Caine returns in the lead role of millionaire thriller writer Andrew Wyke and engages in a sinister game of wits with unemployed actor Milo Tindle (Jude Law).
Caine, frankly, is not up to even the demands of the Pinter-mutated role, rapidly losing his upper-crust accent in favour of familiar Caine-speak while Law embarrasses himself and the audience.
When, after 32 interminable minutes, Law as Tindle says: “I’m not enjoying myself,” I couldn’t have agreed more heartily. Unfortunately there were some 54 more minutes to come.
THE DARJEELING LIMITED
IT’S PROBABLY my fault, but I haven’t enjoyed any of Wes Anderson’s movies, which include Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums and The Life Aquatic With Steve
(15) Zissou. I found them just a tad too arch and rather too self-satisfied for my taste.
The Darjeeling Limited is no exception. Brothers Peter (Adrien Brody), Francis (Owen Wilson) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman, who cowrote the anaemic screenplay with Anderson and Roman Coppola) embark on the eponymous railway train for a journey across India, hoping to end their mutual estrangement and reunite them with their mother (Anjelica Huston, wasted in a cameo) who has entered a convent.
A lot happens before the turgid trio are thrown off the train and are forced to trek through the arid countryside, but none of it is particularly interesting. Attractive locations, beautifully photographed by Robert Yeoman, remain in the mind.
The lacklustre comedy-drama does not.
Christian Bale plays American flier Dieter Dengler in a gripping escape drama based on a true story