The Escapist – film review
Seeing how it’s been Officially Bloody Ages since I’ve put finger to keyboard to talk about some films, I can think of no better way to get the ball rolling again than to recommend something that’s been around for a while and you may have already seen.
One recurrent thought I have about this site / blog thing is questioning the nature of its content – is it a sci-fi blog? is it a horror blog? Is it simply a repository for my mixes? Well, I think ultimately all I can define it as is a “things I like” blog – it just so happens that my personal tastes veer towards the nerdy, the geeky, and the niche (or perhaps that is the once-considered-niche). I have a fondness for retro-futuristic aesthetics, which was partly the inspiration for the site’s name, and yet I wouldn’t consider myself to be a Steampunk, because the last I checked that involves buying overpriced mock-Great War duffel coats and spray painting toy lazer guns a copper colour to hang on your belt. Anyway, I digress – the reason I’m saying these things is because perhaps the site lacks a defined motivation or purpose, but arguably that is the best reflection of its writer/creator there is….
Navel-gazing done and back to the movie then. Imdb informs me that The Escapist was out on dvd about 2 weeks ago, so I can satisfy myself that this will be vaguely relevant or timely. If you’re reading this in America and you weren’t at Sundance 2008, then you can look forward to a limited release in April sometime.
It’s fair to say that I enjoy a good heist movie, and the “prison break movie” is arguably a sub-genre of that: of course, rather than Heist’s prize of financial gain, a Prison Break’s prize is emancipation itself. (I hasten to add right now that I managed to sit through possibly 3 episodes of the TV show Prison Break before realising that every week would involve yet another conveniently placed tattoo on the lead Himbo’s torso, and decided to free myself from it before it got any more annoying).
The Escapist is very much an archetypal prison break movie (or PBM from now on) – Brian Cox adds another excellent performance to his career: this time as Frank – a lifer who decides he has to get out and see his estranged daughter on her 21st birthday.
Around him we find the usual familiar tropes of the PBM – a naïve new inmate, the corrupt guards, the Machiavellian gang boss, the yardie drug dealer, and so on. In fact, there are numerous allusions to The Shawshank Redemption – i guess its inevitable, considering the subject matter.
“So far, so what?” you might be asking, but it is the way the film plays with these conventions to create new (sub-)versions is what sets it apart. There’s a Memento / Reservoir Dogs-esque disregard for linear chronology that proves to have a genuine purpose, rather than mere stylistic showboating. The film also takes great pleasure in pausing to digest characters’ actions and their implications, resulting in a compelling mixture of paces that means you can rarely afford to break concentration.
The Escapist is definitely an ensemble piece: besides’ Cox’s understated performance, I was happy to see the inclusion of two differently Terrifying Gingers (or, you might say, orange warriors..heh)- Damian Lewis as Rizza, and Seamus O’Shaunessy as “Two Ton.” Speaking as a card-carrying Gingerman myself, its always refreshing to see our people 1) Not being embarrassing and 2) clawing back some dignity. Hardly the most professional of opinions I will concede, but we’ve been suffering at the hands of folk like Chris Evans and Catherine Tate for aeons now, and it’s time we drew a line in the sand! Moving on to the rest of the cast, I was genuinely surprised to see Seu Jorge in there, but I cant think of a bad performance by him yet, so fair play. Finally, it took me about half an hour of the film before I realised “Holy shit – its Shakespeare!” with the surprise return of Joseph Feinnes as a lean, violent, skinheaded inmate. There are umpteen other notable character actors in pitch-perfect smaller roles, but I’m not going to list them all.
If you google The Escapist, you will no doubt find countless psychological / analytical essays about the film, the reason being that the closing ten minutes of the film transform and elevate it into something unique and different. Its not quite a Usual Suspects or Sixth Sense twist, but it is a very clever little trick that makes you reappraise all that has gone before.. I’m not one to deliberately put Spoilers in a review, so you have no choice but to just watch the bloody thing to see what I’m talking about.
One minor gripe with this film (and it IS a petty one) is the titles and credits – they look a bit rushed or unfinished and exuded an air of “Film Four made for TV special” – as I say , considering the wealth of riches within, it is indeed a silly thing to quibble about, but that’s a reviewer’s prerogative.
In summary then – go rent the dvd before its on telly in a couple of months, and enjoy the best, most criminally underrated British prison break movie and character study you’re likely to see for quite some time. This film should have got a lot of attention in the Awards Season, and it’s a crying shame that for some reason it simply seemed to slip away unnoticed.