After making the 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly about German-American Navy Pilot Dieter Dengler, Herzog also wrote and directed a feature film version, based on the real events, which was released ten years later. The film begins with shocking real footage of low level bombings over
before we meet the protagonist. Dengler (Christian Bale) a Navy Pilot is shot
down on his first combat mission over Laos in February 1966. After
surviving the crash and the next couple of days in the jungle, Dengler is
captured and tortured by the Pathet Lao and ends up in a prison camp. Already
in the camp are three Thai, one Chinese and two American prisoners who have
been there for over two years. Degler decides immediately that they must all
escape and begins planning. The planning and execution take many months however
and getting out is only the first of many hurdles. Laos
There are Herzogian themes all over the place in this film. There is a strong man vs. jungle theme, men overcoming almost impossible adversity and a study of madness. All of these things have been major parts of previous and subsequent Herzog films such as Fitzcoraldo, Grizzly Man and Aguirre. You get the feeling from watching the film that the actors were put through some extremely tough situations and this is another Herzogian trait. The jungle is almost impregnable and the actors are covered with live leeches and forced to eat live maggots. All of this helps to make the film feel very real.
The story, based mostly on fact is incredible. Without wanting to give away everything, it is incredible what the men did in order to stay alive. And even before the escape attempt, the section in the prison is very tense and interesting. The three main western actors are all excellent. Christian Bale, known for transforming his body between films here transforms before our eyes from a slightly podgy Navy Pilot to an emaciated, almost skeletal figure. He also has an unnerving quality to him, almost like he isn’t taking anything seriously. It’s a strange but compelling performance. Jeremy Davies (Saving Private Ryan, LOST) looks as though he has stepped out of
body is shockingly thin and he is incredible as the slightly mad Gene DeBruin. Steve
Zahn (Treme) produces a different
type of madness to Davies and is also excellent.
If I had one complaint about the film then it would be the poor CGI in the early stages. The one scene in which Bale and co. are flying over
looks very poor but the film cost only $10m and it only occurs once. In an
otherwise excellent film, this is my one solitary complaint. Laos
Overall the film is on a par if not better than Herzog’s earlier feature work. It is a study of madness, desperation, compassion and survival and features three excellent performances.