Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 2006. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Top Gun Productions, Thema Productions, Gibraltar Films, Blue Rider Pictures, Bruin Grip Services. Screenplay by Werner Herzog. Cinematography by Peter Zeitlinger. Produced by Elton Brand, Harry Knapp, Steve Marlton. Music by Klaus Badelt. Production Design by Arin ‘Aoi’ Pinijvararak. Costume Design by Annie Dunn. Film Editing by Joe Bini. Independent Spirit Awards 2007. Toronto International Film Festival 2006.
American army pilot Christian Bale is sent on a top-secret mission into 1965 Laos during the early stages of the Vietnam war, only to be shot down by enemy gunfire. He finds himself locked up in a prisoner-of-war camp with five other prisoners, all of whom have become a little mentally unhinged in the months that they’ve spent starving under lock and key. Steve Zahn is a standout as the one prisoner whom Bale takes under his wing and who becomes his key partner in his attempt to break out and face the wild jungles of southeast Asia. Werner Herzog’s marvelous war film avoids all mawkish patriotic sentiment and sticks to the development of its characters and its bizarre atmosphere; like most of his films it features an outsider surviving under the most extraordinary circumstances. Also highly impressive is the rich photography reminiscent of the verdant hues of 1960s National Geographic film stock, only with the realistic horrors of war in its frames instead of any kind of stylized, benign beauty. Bale gives a strong performance (though his accent is poorly hidden) and Jeremy Davies is positively creepy as the fellow prisoner who doesn’t believe that escape is the wisest option.