I’ll be honest, I watched this movie because it had Christian Bale in it and I liked his performance in Batman Begins, so I thought I’d give this a try. Unlike many movies that I see, this movie didn’t leave me wanting more or less – I was left thinking about the personal complexities of conflict and the bonds of friendship. Quite ponderous, I know, but it was that kind of movie for me.
The movie is based on the experiences of Dieter Dengler in 1966. The first thing that I enjoyed was something missing: the movie was silent on war and politics. In a refreshing viewpoint for Hollywood, director Werner Herzog deals with the reality of a situation and not its circumstances and causes. As I watched I was immersed in the story and feeling the emotions of the characters. The second thing that I enjoyed was also missing: gratuitous violence, gore, scenes of torture and the oft-followed impulse to turn the antagonists into simplistic villains. Sure, this would have been an easy way to go, but they didn’t and instead we could focus on the characters themselves.
The character development was rich, employing the talents of Bale, funny man Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies. I always enjoy seeing comic play very serious roles, even a little more than seeing good actors play people you want to hate. These were the performances of Zahn and Davies respectively. Also rich was the cinematography. The location was beautiful, tropic and foreign. This really added to the immersive effect of the story.
The outcome, while probably ultimately predictable, was not cheapened by a progression of standard events. I suppose this is the benefit of drawing from a true story. The director and casts’ ability to pull you in to the story kept me from daring to anticipate any outcome. In the end I was satisfied and reflective, exactly what I was looking for.