Rescue Dawn is a 2006 American epic war drama film written and directed by Werner Herzog, based on an adapted screenplay written from his 1997 documentary film Little Dieter Needs to Fly.
The film stars Christian Bale, and is based on the true story of German-American pilot Dieter Dengler, who was shot down and captured by villagers sympathetic to the Pathet Lao during an American military campaign in the Vietnam War.
In February 1966, while on a combat mission, Lieutenant Dieter Dengler, a German-born US Navy pilot in squadron VA-145, flying from the carrier USS Ranger, is shot down in his Douglas A-1 Skyraider over Laos. He survives the crash, only to be captured by the Pathet Lao. Dengler is offered leniency by the province governor, if he will sign a document condemning America, but he refuses. Dengler is tortured and taken to a prison camp. There he meets his fellow prisoners: American pilots Gene DeBruin and Duane W. Martin, Y.C., Procet and Phisit, some of whom have been captives for years.
Dengler immediately plans to escape, but receives only grudging approval from the others. All are suffering from malnutrition, unhygienic conditions and abuse by the guards. After some months the food supply worsens further, and they learn that the starving guards are planning to kill them and return to their village, so the prisoners agree to put the long-prepared plan into action. This involves escaping through a weakened place in the perimeter fence, dividing into two groups, circling the perimeter fence in opposite directions, converging on the guard hut during the lunch hour to overwhelm the guards, and contacting the American forces for rescue.
Due to one party of prisoners disobeying Dengler’s orders, the escape does not go to plan and nearly all the guards end up being shot. With insufficient equipment and supplies, the prisoners disperse in the jungle. Dengler and Martin form one group, while Gene and Y.C. leave together to an uncertain fate.
Dengler and Martin try to reach the Mekong River to cross over into Thailand, fashioning a crude raft, but are caught in rapids and a waterfall. After losing their raft, Dengler and Martin are soon found by a mob of angry villagers, who kill Martin. Dengler escapes and flees back into the jungle, hiding from the pursuing villagers. A few days later, he is rescued by an American helicopter. Back at the US compound he is taken to, Dengler is kept isolated in a hospital for debriefing due to the classified nature of his mission. He is visited by some of the men from his squadron, who covertly take him back to his ship, where he is welcomed as a hero by the crew.
Production & Filming Details
- Director: Werner Herzog.
- Producers: Steve Marlton, Werner Herzog, Elton Brand, and Harry Knapp.
- Writer: Werner Herzog.
- Music: Klaus Badelt and Ernst Reijseger.
- Cinematography: Peter Zeitlinger.
- Editor: Joe Bini.
- Production: Gibraltar Films, Thema Production, and MGM.
- Distributor: MGM Distribution Company.
- Release Date: 09 September 2006 (Toronto International Film Festival) and 04 July 2007 (US).
- Running Time: 125 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English, Lao, and Vietnamese.