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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Prisoners argue, then collaborate to escape; captors are brutal and cruel.
Violence & Scariness
The film opens with discussion of the Vietnam War's start. Early images include bombs dropping and exploding from pilots' perspective. Dieter's plane goes down, and he falls through trees, resulting in minor (but a bit bloody) injuries. In prison camp, abuse includes beating, kicking, tying up, dragging behind vehicles, hanging upside down (including a disturbing POV shot), tying a hornets' nest to a victim's neck, shooting near the head (ears ringing effect on soundtrack), chaining to planks, and starving (prisoners become alarmingly thin). Escape involves shooting, fighting, and knifing, resulting in bloody corpses. Brutal violence includes machete attack (bloody splatter on witness' face, decapitated body visible), and leads to an unnerving hallucination/ghost.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Brief suggestive talk ("nice ass for a sailor").
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Military men's language includes repeated uses of "s--t," plus occasional uses of "goddamn" and "son of a bitch."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Frequent cigarette smoking by pilots, prisoners, and guards.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this intense POW film isn't for younger viewers. The sometimes-bloody action (which is both heroic and not-so-heroic) is filtered through complicated historical and political contexts that aren't exactly kid friendly. Also, the prison camp abuse scenes are visceral and potentially upsetting, with violence that's both physical (beating, dragging, shooting, machete attacks) and psychological. Starving prisoners look extremely thin and weak; they also eat live maggots and a snake (these scenes are explicit). Characters smoke cigarettes, and there's some language, including "s--t." To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
By turns exciting and disturbing, Rescue Dawn showcases writer-director Werner Herzog's signature interests in moral ambiguities and emotional adversities. While the wide shots of the jungle can be breathtaking, close-up scenes of abused bodies and maggots (which serve as lunch for the starving prisoners) are disconcerting. And even though the guards appear monstrous to the prisoners (with no subtitles, their dialogue remains unknown for English-only speakers), the United States' activities during the Vietnam War raise questions.
That said, the movie's individual portraits -- especially the intimate, uneven, and wonderfully strange relationship that gradually develops between Dieter and Duane -- are poignant and engrossing. While its subject matter (prisoners of war) is surely timely, its complications are timeless.
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Our Editors Recommend
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate