In Rescue Dawn, director Werner Herzog stylishly dramatizes the story of his deceased friend Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale). He was the German-born American solider captured in Laos during the onset of the Vietnam conflict.

Dengler was also the source of Herzog’s acclaimed 1997 documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly. In both films, this soldier’s courageous tale unfolds as the ultimate testament of strength and determination. Nowhere is that more apparent than when Bale is onscreen as Dengler. He delivers a boyish enthusiasm to this Naval pilot.

Dengler’s immigrant experience played a huge part in his desire to fight with unflinching loyalty for the U.S. Those virtues were the fuel that allowed Dengler along with a handful of other POWs to survive the torture and starvation inflicted upon them.

Steve Zahn who plays captive Duane Martin, abandons his usual jokester roles in movies like Sahara (2005) in favor of a more dramatic part. Also along for the ride is the indomitable character actor Jeremy Davies (CQ). In Rescue Dawn, he is “Gene from Eugene” – the crazy-as-a-shithouse-rat, lone dissenter of the bunch.

The chemistry between these talented actors also lends itself to the factual nature of each scene. It’s impossible to comprehend how difficult it would be to survive being a prisoner of war. It’s even harder to imagine summoning the strength to overtake one’s captors and escape.

Grade: B-

Rescue Dawn releases in theaters July 4.