Neither more nor less than a solid prison-break thriller, The Escapist loses some of its downbeat grittiness during its finale, but is generally elevated by Brian Cox’s hardnosed, desperate performance as the ringleader of a five-man team escaping from a London penitentiary. Rupert Wyatt’s film begins with the start of the breakout before settling into a comfortable past-and-present structure in which flashbacks to preceding events detail the motivations compelling each of the inmates to flee confinement. This cause-and-effect arrangement rarely feels contrived thanks to Wyatt’s refusal to gloss up, or greatly sentimentalize, his characters’ personal reasons—besides the natural lure of freedom—for undertaking such a dangerous task. His portrait of prison life, as well as the arduous machinations required to liberate oneself from it, has a brute force that would make Jules Dassin mildly proud, the director laying out the planning and execution of the central scheme with rugged clarity devoid of excessive exposition. Joseph Fiennes falters in trying to exude bare-knuckled toughness as a thief and pugilist just denied parole, and Steven Mackintosh and Damian Lewis go slightly overboard as, respectively, a junkie homosexual rapist and his strangely enunciating prison-boss brother. Nonetheless, Escapist expresses the menacing literal and figurative claustrophobia of being locked up through the story of Lacey (Dominic Cooper), a newbie tormented by Mackintosh’s deviant, as well as that of Cox’s Frank, a lifer driven to find a way out after receiving a letter from his wife (the first in 15 years) that informs him of his beloved daughter’s descent into junkiedom. Through Frank’s guilt-ridden distress over his child’s addiction, Wyatt subtly conveys how getting incarcerated is itself a crime perpetrated against family, and one not necessarily alleviated by simply becoming physically liberated from a cell. It’s a potent thread that the film should have followed to the end, rather than resorting to a surrogate-child, semi-happy redemptive conclusion that trades in two too many stale clichés.
- IFC Films
- 102 min
- Rupert Wyatt
- Daniel Hardy, Rupert Wyatt
- Brian Cox, Damian Lewis, Joseph Fiennes, Seu Jorge, Liam Cunningham, Dominic Cooper, Vinnie McCabe, Ned Dennehy, Steven Mackintosh
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