German-born U.S. Navy pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale, "Batman Begins") gets shot down over Laos and becomes a prisoner of war during Vietnam. After he's imprisoned with some other men he hopes to motivate his fellow captives—including Steve Zahn ("Out of Sight") and Jeremy Davies ("Saving Private Ryan")—to escape to freedom.
Big question: Is this really the right time for an inspirational Vietnam-era tale?
Catch it: Compelling from start to finish, "Rescue Dawn" is above all a first-rate adventure tale. Bale continues to impress with his bold performances and interesting choice in material and he's as instrumental to the movie's success as film-geek favorite director Werner Herzog ("Grizzly Man"), an idiosyncratic filmmaker who here applies a master's skills to a story accessible to the masses.
Skip it: If you're too squeamish to handle torture, leeches and Bale taking a bite out of a barely-dead snake. The PG-13 rating ensures this isn't exactly "Hostel," but it's not pretty either.
Bottom line: A simple survival story actually feels refreshing in these complicated political times, especially when it's this well made. "Rescue Dawn" immediately joins the ranks of the year's best movies.
Bonus: Like what you see here but looking for a less-fictionalized version? Herzog told the same story with the real Dengler in the 1997 documentary "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," made for German television but available on DVD.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times