Who's in It:
Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies
The Basics: Dieter Dengler (yep, that was his real name, played here by Bale) was an American soldier who became a POW during the Vietnam War. Trapped in a jungle with no hope of rescue, he organized a plan to bust out. Think The Great Escape minus the catchy music and Hogan's Heroes elements.
What's the Deal? Werner Herzog goes Hollywood! And seriously, it's about time. Think about how many good mainstream movies the acclaimed director could have made by this point in his life. And by saying "mainstream," I'm not insulting it at all. We need more crowd-friendly films that aren't stupid. And this one has all the adventure elements that crowds go for and, even though it sounds like a Rambo-y '80s film, it doesn't pander to jingoistic impulses or emotional uplift to get to where it wants to go. It's tougher and cooler and smarter than that.
Why Johnny Depp Needs to Watch His Back: Bale is turning into the best actor of his time. He's not so famous yet that he's turned into a Tom Cruise kind of actor, the type you can only see and accept on screen as a mildly altered version of himself. And he does this by staying out of the tabloids and other media (so that when the actual movies come out we're not totally sick of him) and by consistently choosing offbeat projects to work on. Even when the movie's not great, he's usually great in it.
Based On: Herzog's own 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Check it out after you see the fictionalized version.
In Some Kind of Skinny Contest With Each Other: Co-star Zahn reportedly lost 40 pounds to play one of the other starving POWs, but even that can't hold a match to Bale's own weight loss for The Machinist (something over 60 pounds), which left him so gaunt and bony it didn't even look like him anymore. Gross, but effective.