Inescapable has a promisingly abrupt, jittery opening. Adib (Alexander Siddig) is a successful middle-aged man smugly strolling the halls of his office building when a mysterious acquaintance informs him that his photographer daughter has disappeared in Damascus despite her claims that she would be doing a shoot in Greece. Adib places a few ominous phone calls, gazes with pregnant foreboding at a few pictures on his desk, and promptly heads to Damascus on an illegal visa to find his daughter.
After Cairo Time and now Inescapable, it’s clear that writer-director Ruba Nadda enjoys injecting familiar genre tropes with an element of Middle-Eastern political critique. In Cairo Time, Nada fashioned a traditional doomed romantic narrative as a springboard for an examination of the West’s prevailing stereotype of the Middle East as a land entirely comprised of terrorists and zealots. In Inescapable, the filmmaker devices a familiar avenging-father scenario as a means of criticizing the kinds of cruel, suppressive regimes that propagate said Western stereotypes with their employment of spies and secret police as instruments of violent citizen control.
Cairo Time was a square, conventional movie, but Nadda established a leisurely tempo that refreshingly contradicted the shrill desperation of most contemporary American romances; she has a talent for long, languorous scenes that allow actors to respond to one another. Unfortunately, Nadda doesn’t have the same feel for the narrative screw-tightening necessary to properly execute the kind of thriller she’s attempting here, and so her talents feel oddly misplaced. Adib arrives in Damascus and immediately proceeds to volley a series of longing glances at Fatima (Marisa Tomei, bizarrely cast as a Syrian native), a woman who clearly meant something to him at some point in the past. The scene is obvious, but it draws you in because the actors are charismatic and attractive, and because Nadda still has that ability to lull you into a romantic reverie—until it occurs to you that this is supposed to be a thriller and that Adib’s time would probably be better spent finding his endangered daughter.
Inescapable competently holds your interest for the first act when you assume that Nadda, in the tradition of these kinds of films, is building toward a perverse reveal or two. But it’s soon clear that she isn’t, and the film spins its wheels for almost an hour until collapsing under the weight of exposition that renders the mystery nearly besides the point. It may be attempting to impart a noble civics lesson or two, but Inescapable had me longing for the efficient, unpretentious pleasures of even Liam Neeson’s most problematic and ridiculous international headbangers.