Behind Enemy Lines [1998]

Rescue Dawn In the tradition of The Great Escape and The Deer Hunter, Rescue Dawn is Werner Herzog's take on the pulse-pounding POW genre. Unlike most such efforts, however, his isn't just based on a true story, it's a remake of his 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. German-born Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale, who first made his mark in Steven Spielberg's prison camp drama Empire of the Sun) has longed to pilot a plane since he was a boy. When he joins the Navy during the Vietnam War, he gets his wish. Then he's shot down over Laos. Though he survives, Dengler is captured by the Pathet Lao. Through his internment, he meets Duane Martin (Steve Zahn in his finest performance), with whom he becomes fast friends. While Dengler is arrogant and resourceful, Martin is patient and humble. With Dengler's assistance, the prisoners escape, but the untamed wilderness turns out to be just as dangerous (cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger ably captures its cruel beauty). Those who've seen Little Dieter know how this tale ends. Suffice to say, Herzog's reenactment makes for rousing entertainment. If the film has a flaw, it's that the rah-rah finale plays like something from out of a mainstream sports movie. That quibble aside, the actors, including Jeremy Davies as a delusional campmate and Toby Huss as a fellow flyer, are aces. And Herzog, who's been concentrating on nonfiction, like Grizzly Man, proves he can direct a Hollywood-style action epic with the best of 'em. --Kathleen C. Fennessy Behind Enemy Lines Smart casting and sensible plotting make Behind Enemy Lines an above-average military thriller. Perfectly timed to bolster patriotism, the film is partly set (during a hypothetical "day after tomorrow") on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson, which was on alert status in the Persian Gulf when this film was released. Proving his versatility as an unconventional movie star, Owen Wilson plays a navy navigator who is shot down over Bosnia during a reconnaissance mission. Pursued by rebel Serbian forces, Wilson must fight for survival while his commanding officer (Gene Hackman) plots a daredevil rescue. After a successful career in TV commercials, Irish director John Moore makes a promising feature debut on Slovakian locations, borrowing a few techniques from Saving Private Ryan while adding impressive flourishes of his own. The gung-ho ending's a foregone conclusion, but it works like a charm after the movie's exciting game of cat and mouse. --Jeff Shannon Windtalkers Having earned Hollywood's respect with blockbusters like Face/Off and Mission: Impossible 2, Hong Kong action master John Woo lends his signature style to serious World War II action in Windtalkers. Recognizing the long-forgotten contribution of Navajo "code talkers," whose use of an unbreakable Navajo-language radio code was instrumental in defeating the Japanese, the film serves as an admirable tribute to those Native American heroes. Unfortunately, it falls short of importance with its standard-issue story about a battle-scarred sergeant (Nicolas Cage) assigned to protect a code-talker (Adam Beach, from Smoke Signals), with unspoken orders to kill him if Japanese capture is imminent. This allows for an involving drama of hard-won friendship, but cardboard supporting characters suffer in the shadow of nonstop action that's as repetitious as it is technically impressive. Windtalkers is best appreciated as a more substantial vehicle for Woo's trademark ballet of bullets. --Jeff Shannon

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