A Navy fighter pilot, on a secret mission, is shot down behind enemy lines in Laos and taken prisoner. Christian Bale plays the lead character of Dieter Dengler. Dieter is on his first mission as a fighter pilot. It is a top-secret mission prior to the start of the Vietnam War. The mission is to bomb targets in Laos. His plane crashes after he bombs his targets. He evades capture only for a short period, then is taken to a prison camp in the jungles of Laos. Already a few men are held captive there which include Duane (played by Steve Zahn), Gene (played by Jeremy Davies), Farkas (played by Gregory J. Qaiyum) and others. Gene has been held the longest for about two and a half years so he is going insane. Gene falsely believes any moment they will be set free.
Dieter makes plans to escape. The first thing he does is steal a nail, which he fastens into a thin tool, so he can open the handcuffs and leg restraints the guards put on them at night. Then he opens a hole in the floor of the hut, sneaks out and makes a way to get through the fence. He puts the fence back in place and covers up the work, to be used later for the escape. All the other prisoners go along with his plan to escape because he proves to be very resourceful, except for Gene who does not want to go and threatens to scream out when they attempt it. Dieter continues his plans anyway. Duane tells him, without water they will die quickly in the jungle so they have to wait for the rainy season to attempt the escape. They make plans to escape on July 4. The plan is not to go into the jungle by rather take over the camp, hold the guards as hostage to give them enough time to signal the American planes and helicopters occasionally flying over head to be rescued.
Dieter watches the guard with the aid of a tiny mirror on a stick, he pushes up through the roof of the hut. He notices they leave their guns unattended when they go to the kitchen to eat. Food runs scarce in the area because the bombings have destroyed the local villagers' ability to grow rice. The guards plan to kill the prisoners, making it look like they attempted escape, so they can abandon the camp and return to their own villages where there is more food. Farkas overhears the plan of the guards, because he understands Laotian. Farkas tells Dieter the guards will kill them soon. Dieter decides they must execute their plan to take over the camp the next day even it is one day before July 4th.
The next day, Dieter watches until all the guards have abandoned their guns to go to the kitchen to eat. Dieter launches the plan to take over the camp. Dieter goes first to retrieve the weapons. Dieter returns with the guns, distributes them to the men. He instructs half the prisoners to go around the fence one direction and for Duane to follow him the other direction. They must all meet up at exactly the same time at the kitchen in order to subdue the guards. They all set off. When Dieter and Duane arrive at the kitchen, they are the only ones there. Dieter and Duane must shoot all the guards, allowing only one nice one to run away. Now instead of having hostages, they must leave the camp because the Viet Cong will soon come.
Duane and Dieter go off into the jungle in one direction. Dieter sends the useless Gene and the others who did not follow the plan in a different direction. Luckily the rainy season comes, and it begins to rain so Duane and Dieter have water, but they left without shoes so they walk barefoot through the jungle avoiding everyone. They make a makeshift raft to float down a small river in the hope of it joining the larger Mei Cong river which will take them out of Laos through Vietnam to escape to Thailand. The raft works well until they come upon a waterfall. They get to the shore to keep from falling in the waterfall, but the raft is destroyed going over the falls. They have guns with them, but they are not able to use them for hunting because the sound will give away their position, so they discard them. They find one sole of a shoe stuck in the brush on the riverbank and use it to cover one foot, trading off the use of it with each other. They find an abandoned village in the jungle. U.S. helicopters fly over. They try to signal to them but they are not seen. Duane says he is too weak to continue. Dieter sets part of the village on fire to signal the helicopters. The helicopters come but instead of rescuing them, they fire upon them, thinking, by mistake, they are the enemy. Dieter forces Duane to continue. Duane is rapidly losing his sanity.
They come upon another small village and their only hope is to surrender to beg for food. When they surrender, Duane is immediately killed by one of the villagers with a machete. Dieter escapes back to the jungle. Dieter hallucinates Duane is still alive and with him, complaining about how cold his feet are. Duane sees a snake on the riverbank and catches it with his bare hands. He eats part of the snake raw. A U.S. scout plane flies over. They see him and return with two helicopters. He is rescued. Near death from starvation, he is taken to a hospital to recover.
After he recovers, he is interrogated by the CIA. They plan to take him for further questioning. The men from his ship show up at the hospital with a birthday cake on a push cart even it is not his birthday. They ask the CIA agent to give Dieter a few private moments with them because they have a letter from Dieter's girlfriend to give Dieter to read. The CIA agents step outside. They hide Dieter in the push cart to take him to a waiting helicopter. When they pass the CIA agents they ask the agents to wait a few minutes because Dieter is so emotional over reading the letter and he needs some time to compose himself. This gives them enough time to escape with Dieter. They bring Dieter back to his Navy ship to a hero's welcome from everyone on board.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like this film because it is based on the accounts from a true story.
Best scene in story:
I like the scene when Dieter is able to release the POWs from the leg restraints and hand-cuffs using a tool he fashioned from a nail. It is the first moment of hope in the movie, which shows escape is possible.
Opinion about the main character:
Dieter's determination to escape is very courageous.