Saturday, January 30, 2010
Movie on DVD review: The Escapist
While not up to the standards of the classics in its genre, an outstanding lead performance by Brian Cox makes the film well worth watching.
God only knows how many prison break movies have been made. The tradition is a worn out thread of suspense, archetypes and, well, not much else. Sure, there are exceptions which have broken the mold, but as a whole, this type of film is tired and restrictive. Thus, for Rupert Wyatt to have made an escape drama in his directorial debut was risky.
The Escapist, however, exceeds the confines of its genre by relying on its characters and their realism rather than the formula, though without fleeing from stock elements, resulting in a raw and believable film that leaves you thinking.
Frank Miller (Brian Cox) is 14 years in and serving a life sentence for a crime unknown. He appears to be pretty content, though. Unlike fellow inmates, who break rules and cause trouble, Frank keeps to himself and accepts his circumstances. But that all changes when he receives a letter from his wife and learns that his daughter is ill, suffering from a drug addiction.
Determined to see her before it’s too late, Frank immediately begins plotting a breakout. And in concordance with the genre, he's doesn't do it alone: Brodie (Liam Cunningham), a reliable and honest friend, joins the effort. They enlist two others: Lenny (Joseph Fiennes), a tough boxer skilled in burglary, and Viv (Seu Jorge), the in-house drug dealer.
There's also a bad guy. Played by Damian Lewis, Rizza is a strapping redhead, who controls the complex, including the guards, with an iron fist. His brother Tony (Steven Mackintosh), a manic junkie, is even worse. So when Frank's new roommate, Lacey (Dominic Cooper), gets mixed up with the ruthless brothers, everything is jeopardized.
With its stock premise, the story is clearly nothing new. The way it’s told, however, is: Instead of showing the executed plan an hour into the movie, the getaway commences in the opening scene, as the planning and escape function as parallel plots.
This approach has the potential to be overly sporadic and give away too much too soon. But, surprisingly, it works. Wyatt reveals just enough in each segment to keep the suspense elevated and viewers wanting more.
The riveting score by composer Benjamin Wallfisch (Atonement, Moon) helps sustain the anticipation. Its melodramatic pace and naturalistic noises replace the brutal violence and sexuality that are often prominent in this kind of film. And Coldplay closes things out with a fitting track.
A reliance on humanity is the movie's anchor, though. Escape films too often focus on plot and suspense, which results in flat characters whom no one really cares about. And whether they make it out or not matters very little. The Escapist, however, doesn't fall into this trap, and the person to credit is Brian Cox.
In a role designed specifically for him, Cox is spectacular. He plays Frank honestly and convincingly. His ability to act through facial expressions and little dialogue, carefully mastering understatement, gives Tim Robbins a run for his money. Frank's background is never revealed, yet his character is fully realized, a paradox that can only be accomplished through a stellar performance.
Beyond realistic characters, Wyatt takes the genre a step further with metaphor. Though it's subtle and slightly ambiguous, this element adds an interesting twist. Not to mention, the way it plays out is captivating.
The film doesn't hold up to classics like Cool Hand Luke or The Shawshank Redemption. However, because it escapes the limitations notorious to its genre, The Escapist is worth the time. Watch it for Cox's performance, if for nothing else.
Trailer for The Escapist
Also released on DVD and Blu-ray this week:
David Roark loves movies. And likes to write about them.