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Rescue Dawn is a 2007 film starring Christian Bale and Steve Zahn. It was written and directed by Werner Herzog, based on the director's acclaimed 1997 documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly. NBA all-star Elton Brand is the film's producer through his production company Gibraltar Entertainment, which he co-owns with partner Steve Marlton. The film was produced in association with Thema Production. The project, which had been coming together in fits and starts during 2004, began shooting in Thailandmarker in mid-August 2005.

The film was originally scheduled to be released by MGM in December 2006, but was held back for limited release in the United States at some point in 2007. The film had a nationwide release on July 27, 2007, after a limited release in New York City, Toronto, and Los Angeles on July 4. Rescue Dawn was released in the United Kingdommarker by Pathe International. The movie was released on DVD by MGM Home Entertainment in November 2007. The film is rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense war violence and torture. The soundtrack was released on June 26, 2007 and was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on November 20.


Dieter Dengler, a U.S. Navy pilot, is shot down in his A-1 Skyraider over Laosmarker in 1965, while on a combat mission. He survives the crash only to be pursued, and ultimately captured, by a local militia of the Pathet Lao. Dieter is given the chance for leniency if he signs a document condemning America, but he refuses. He is tortured and taken to a prison camp. There he meets fellow American military members and Air America pilots, some of whom have been captive for years. Dieter begins planning an escape, much to the disbelief of his fellow captives, who have been downtrodden through physical and psychological torture from the camp guards.

Eventually, all the prisoners agree to escape, but they take separate routes through the jungle. Dieter and fellow captive Duane try to reach the Mekong River to cross over into Thailandmarker. The pair are attacked and Duane is beheaded. Eventually, Dieter is rescued by an American helicopter but sequestered in a hospital due to the top secret nature of his mission. He is covertly taken back to his ship by his shipmates, where he is received as a hero by the entire crew.


The film was shot in 44 days in Thailandmarker. In preparation for the roles, the actors playing the prisoners spent several months losing weight. Since weight gain is accomplished more quickly than weight loss, the film was shot in reverse, with Bale fully regaining his weight during the course of the shoot. The film includes the first major occurrence of digital visual effects in Herzog's career. Because very few authentic A-1 Skyraiders remained flightworthy at the time of the production, the shots of Dieter's flight while airborne were created digitally. The crash itself, however, was produced practically.

In 2009 producers Gerald and Patricia Green were charged with making corrupt payments to Thai officials to secure lucrative film contracts between 2002 and 2006, including their contracts for Rescue Dawn. Their case went to trial on August 4, 2009, and was one of the first cases in the entertainment industry tried under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.


Rescue Dawn has been positively received by critics. On the film has a score of 78 (generally favorable reviews) out of 100. It has received a strong 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. V.A. Musetto of the New York Post named it one of the best films of 2007. The film initially opened in six theaters and grossed $110,326, making it #28 for the weekend. It went into wide release the weekend of July 27, 2007, and grossed $1,650,282 in 500 theaters, to reach the 11th spot in the US box office. As of May 6, 2008, it had grossed $5,490,423 in the US and $1,547,463 internationally, for total theatrical receipts of $7,037,886. As the film cost 10,000,000 dollars to make, there was nearly a 3,000,000 dollar loss at the box office for the film. A figure which could be easily turned around if DVD sales reach their expected potential.

On November 20, 2007 the DVD was released in the US. It was also released on high definition Blu-ray disc the same day. As of May 6, 2008, The Numbers estimates its DVD sales revenue in the US to be $24,664,729 -- approximately four times what it earned theatrically.

Historical accuracy

The film depicts six prisoners in the camp, while in real life there were seven. Herzog says that he found the scripting to be difficult with seven characters, and that six was a more manageable number. All the guards in the camp were based directly on men from Dieter Dengler's story except for 'Walkie Talkie,' who is a fictional creation of the director. Jerry DeBruin, brother of Gene DeBruin (portrayed by Jeremy Davies), has created a website critical of Herzog and the film, claiming that several characters and events have been falsely portrayed. On the same website, Pisidhi Indradat, the other survivor of the group, has also stated that the film contains inaccuracies. The website claims that during his imprisonment, DeBruin taught his cellmates English, shared his food, and even returned after escaping to help an injured cell mate. In the movie, Dengler formulates the entire escape plan along with uncuffing the handcuffs with the nail. According to Jerry DeBruin, the prisoners waited for two weeks before telling him of the plan, which had been devised before his arrival.

Herzog acknowledged that DeBruin acted heroically during his imprisonment, refusing to leave while some sick prisoners remained, but Herzog was unaware of this fact until after the film had been completed. Herzog states that this narrative aspect probably would have been included had he learned it earlier. In real life, Dieter Dengler spoke English with a strong German accent. For this movie, Bale (who himself normally speaks with a Welsh English accent) spoke with an American accent. Dieter Dengler was captured not once but twice in real life. The scene where he was captured while drinking from a river is based on his second capture.



  1. Herzog, Werner, The Making of a True Story, documentary feature on the American DVD release of Rescue Dawn
  2. Herzog, Werner, audio commentary track on the American DVD release of Rescue Dawn
  4. Los Angeles CityBeat - Little Dieter Flies Again

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