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Seen at Sundance Premiere 2008. Within the first 2 minutes of the Escapist you know your buckled in and you won't be getting up till the credits start rolling, and thats just how it is. In the tradition of the Bird Man of Alcatraz, Great Escape, Cool Hand Luke and other greats of the prison break genre you can add the Escapist. The feel is modern but the setup is old school and true to the genre in a familiarly comforting way. Director Rupert Wyatt has created a fantastic action film with intelligent sequencing and a meaningful ending that makes you remember its indie roots. What is even more amazing though is the (((sound))) , it is insane! The sounds of the prison are so real and chilling in their quiet way, then when the action hits its like a tidal wave of sound hitting all you senses. Rarely does a new flick come along with such wide potential that brings new ideas and old ones together so well. I'm left extremely impressed by all involved. Movie will be best seen on the big screen with high quality sound, I imagine American audiences will not show this as much love as they should do to the lack of big names but I suspect the UK will embrace this very well.
I didn't vote on any films in 2008. There were plenty of decent films but nothing made me want to post on IMDb, whatever I want to say has always been put more eloquently by someone else. But this film deserves credit, naturally I checked here before I watched but afterwards I felt compelled to demonstrate some appreciation. No, you moron posters, it is NOT Prison Break, neither is it trying to be. After it finishes you'll want to watch it again. It looks real and gritty definitely not studio. I don't know enough about film to tell you if it was the script, acting, filming or anything else, it took me to a different place - Isn't that what we want most in a film?
Truly superb film. I was impressed by the choice of actors, some of
whom played characters that one wouldn't expect them to do so well in -
Damian Lewis, in particular, really impressed with his performance as
'the bad guy', while Steven Mackintosh also does an impressive job of
scaring the living daylights out of you in this film.
The sound design and parts of the music really help the film along, building the pace at the right moments, creating suspense and capturing the raw, gritty feeling of prison life perfectly. It was a delight getting so involved in the subtleties of a film's soundtrack - something that is lacking in modern day feature films.
This film should stand out far more than other films of this genre, it is award-winning material.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Frank Perry (Brian Cox) is a long term prisoner in a London jail where
the guards look the other way and one would be wise to avoid the
attentions of Rizzo (Damian Lewis), the boss inmate and his unhinged
junkie brother Tony (Steven Mackintosh in scenery chewing form). The
arrival of a new cell mate, Lacey (played by newcomer Dominic Cooper)
coincides with Perry receiving the first letter from his family in
fourteen years. His daughter is a heroin addict and close to death.
Perry decides he must get out, to see her and make things right while
there is still time. He goes to his closest friend Brodie (Liam
Cunningham) and they enlist on-the-edge pugilist and thief Lenny Drake
(Joseph Fiennes) to put together their plan.
But the film begins with the escape, cleverly setting up many questions in the head of the viewer, which are then answered in flashback. We want to know why Frank starts the escape attempt what appears to be a stab wound, how drug dealer Viv Batista (Seu Jorge) gets involved and why Lacey is part of the team when he has arrived in the prison so recently. The answers come, but slowly so that it's only at the very end that the little hints and clues scattered through the story of the escape attempt itself make sense.
This structure and the final plot twist would alone make this film worth repeat viewing, but not just for that. Writers Daniel Hardy and Rupert Wyatt (Wyatt also directed) let images rather than words do the talking, and with a cast of this calibre it pays off brilliantly. The actors are allowed to use their faces and bodies to tell us the story: Brian Cox letting his face fall into a pile of regret when he reads the letter, Damian Lewis's posture as he walks past the cells to find out what happened to his brother, the tiny shifts of expression on Dominic Cooper's face as he relives his forced dalliance in the showers with Tony, from self pity to self hatred and back again. It's top notch stuff.
Comparisons with "Shawshank Redemption" are inevitable, but while "Redemption" was really a story about hope, "The Escapist" is actually a film about redemption, about the single unselfish act that can redeem wasted years, perhaps a wasted life. And, as Perry points out, that we're only as free as we allow ourselves to be.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I caught this at Sundance. Not the premiere but one of the other showings. Then I went back to a second viewing! (The only film there I'd felt that way about.) The audiences reaction said it all. People came with very little hype or knowledge about what was billed as a prison escape movie. So this was one of the few films at the festival which really exceeded expectations. I knew something was up when it started with the escape itself! Cutting back and forth between the escape and the plan was a device that I worried at first would annoy me, a tip of a hat to Memento but without good reason for being there. I was wrong - in fact the reason we get this structure is one of the cleverest reasons I've ever seen and its only fully clear what it all signified in the last few seconds of the film. But I won't spoil it.. its just worth saying that this film and its clever structure and twist makes it more of a Jacobs Ladder or Memento than a Shawshank Redemption. You need to see it twice to pick up all the clues and understand completely - a bit like Donnie Darko or Mulholland Dr - enjoyable even if you don't get it completely but there are other layers to figure out in future viewings. The film had an interesting look to it like a 70s movie and excellent cinematography although I wished that they'd either not used CG in places or done it a bit better. The acting from Brian Cox (carrying the film) and Stephen Mackintosh (minor role) really impressed, first time I've seen Cox carry a movie since Manhunter. The sound was very interestingly done which is rare and together with the unique, detailed look of the film gave me the impression of a director (Rupert Wyatt) who got to realise his unique vision.... which is what these Sundance movies should be about. The music was quite diverse, and best when not getting too sentimental, but it helped with the pace if not the mood. Leonard Cohen's song also perfectly led us in and out of the story. But the technical side of the film-making from all parties was clearly top notch and Joe Walker's editing, creating a double story while keeping both interesting was also stand-out good. I also loved the retro titles- these films its referencing from the 70s are some of my favourite but this managed to update, subvert and improve them. Hats off.
As one reviewer said, this is an existential puzzle box of a movie, the
true meaning of the title being revealed at the very end. It's not just
about escaping from a prison, nor is it a pretentious metaphor. Its
just very very well made.
I appreciate some similarities with Shawshank Redemption for obvious reasons, but really this film stands up on its own rights. The reasons for escaping are wholly different - SR was to right a wrong while here it is familial breakdown and taking responsibility for ones own actions. Brian Cox's character, and the rest, are believable and fleshed out enough to engage with but the real achievement here is in the pacing and structuring of the plot.
The film cuts between the actual escape itself and the events and planning leading up to the escape. Dominoes, diamonds, and of course, drugs all play a part in the set-up of the escape, which plays out with breathless excitement. The grim presentation of the prison, Damien Lewis' character in particular, appears shockingly believable. Prisons are not ruled in the way they should be, and a character like his, having a grip over the institution rather than the other way round, seems sadly truthful. He is very scary...
The end, like Shawshank, is uplifting in a downbeat kinda way. It reminded me of The Descent, which i hope is not a great spoiler for people. I almost cried but actually you're left feeling quite happy for the central character. There is not the same redemption as SR, which is a good thing, so don't go in expecting happy endings, or heaven forbid, Prison Break The Movie. For that it is not, though its existence probably owes something to the success of that over-running TV show, and the ingenious escape route is one Michael Schofield would be proud of. But really, this is a great little indie movie which came and went at the cinema very quickly, but will no doubt find an audience in the years to come.
Only a handful of films have ever been awarded a 10/10 for me - this is
one of them.
Having been given the chance to read the script by Rupert a couple of years ago, when the film was in preproduction and looking for filming locations, I have been waiting for this film for a long time knowing how much potential it had - never have I been so gripped by a movie script on first reading.
Oh boy, I wasn't disappointed. Wyatt delivered the story big time, for me. I went to see it last night on the first showing in Cardiff and enjoyed it so much that I went with a friend this afternoon to see it again. My friend also agrees with my feelings! I can understand how some people may find it confusing (especially in the first 15 minutes) but I think by the end, when all the pieces fit together, it's a classic.
Having seen it the second time now, there is SO much detail I missed the first time (some of which my friend actually spotted on the first watch).
This film ticks all the boxes for me. Strong characters played by talented actors. A complex but ultimately rewarding plot. An intense and superb soundtrack (needs to be seen in a cinema with good surround - I jumped several times at "normal" ambient noises coming from various places around the auditorium). The music is just perfect for the film.
Even now, I feel I want to go and see it again to see what other clues have been left in the storyline to subtly point to the payoff at the end of the film.
While The Escapist may not have an all-star A-list cast, it has a
pretty recognizable international one. When I saw the names attached to
this thing, I couldn't believe that it had trouble finding
distribution. Luckily IFC Films stepped up to the plate and will add it
to their VOD schedule to get some exposure for its DVD release. Much
like Unknown from a few years back, Rupert Wyatt's film is a hidden gem
of intrigue and suspense. A disjointed narrative tells the story of a
ragtag bunch of criminals looking to escape from a maximum security
prison so that the orchestrator, Brian Cox's Frank Perry, can see his
daughter before she dies from drug abuse complications on the outside.
Each member of the team has a specialty necessary for the escape to
work and/or finds his way on the team through trade, whether
consciously or not. You do begin to wonder way Rupert has decided to
show it all inter-spliced with flashbacks on how they got together, and
when the conclusion is reached you will understand in a surprisingly
satisfactory turn of events.
Now these names may mean absolutely nothing to you, but on paper they are quite the collaborative team. Cox leads the way in recognition and stature, followed by a favorite of mine Damian Lewis, (in a smaller role than I had anticipated), and Joseph Fiennes. Add in the familiar faces of Steven Mackintosh, Liam Cunningham, Dominic Cooper, and singer Seu Jorge and you've really got something for a film that will probably not be seen by very many people. And that is the real shame here because The Escapist has a lot going for it. With a good marketing push and word of mouth, this had the potential of being a sleeper hitan indie done well. Hopefully IFC viewers will start spreading excitement and help it to achieve cult status of some sort. It may not be as mainstream as "Prison Break", but utilizing the same core idea, Wyatt culls together a unique tale that takes more from a film like Jacob's Ladder than pop culture television.
It all begins with Cox's Perry, tired and scared, finding Lewis sitting on a cell bed. The next thing we know, Cox joins up with the team as they have just smashed their way into the laundry room, only now he has a bloodied shirt and what can be assumed as a nasty gash to his stomach. We have been dropped right into the escape and now the group is together, putting their plan in motion. But wait, all of sudden we are back in time watching Cox do laundry duty, Cunningham's Brodie putting on an ant race, and Mackintosh's Tony berating newcomer Cooper as he arrives at the prison. The discovery that we are about to go on a journey with the escapees, juxtaposed with how they all came together to plan the event, becomes clear. With sharp cuts, yet coherent story continuity, it all makes sense as both halves reach their crescendos at the end. The plot line of the past thread reaches the point at which the film started and that progression leads to the end of the escape simultaneously. Both meld together as one, revealing what has indeed been going on the entire time, possibly not even parallel timeframes after all.
Complete with some very nice camera-work, Wyatt shows some skill as a director. Scenes like that of Mackintosh and Cooper in the showers, fog shrouding their advance into the water, shielding us from what we know is about to happen, really stick out. Even the trip to that end, with Cooper's Lacey being "helped" by guards and inmates, opening doors for him to "hide" in, plays nicely into the artistry and aesthetic being put on display. The prison is dark and dingy, yet a paradise in comparison with the large expanses of sewers they soon find themselves traveling through. It is a muted palette throughout, making the light at the end of the tunnel (both figuratively and literally) that much brighter in notion and reality. And the way in which we see things happen is with suspense and intrigue. Watching the inmates plan their escape with dominoes as we are shown the real life places they mimic along with extended sequences of rapid process cutswhether they be making drugs, creating a steel cutter, or even a jailhouse brawlmany instances beg to be appreciated visually as well as for how well they advance the story.
It all ends up being an actors' movie, though, as the performances shine above all else. Fiennes was almost unrecognizable to me at the start. I thought that was him, but something was off. Only after about thirty minutes did I finally realize it, Fiennes performing as a madman "utility" guy, nothing like the Shakespearean heroes he is most known for. Lewis is great as the menacing prison czar, always with a smile yet demanding the respect of every inmate with his own brand of punishment the guards look the other way on. And I really liked Seu Jorge's role as Viv Bastista. He is a wild card to the filmlibrarian/drug cook/witness for Lewis' Rizza. What really makes them all so elusive and mysterious, however, even as we learn who they are as men, is the fact that we don't know what has landed any of them in jail. Are they killers? Thieves? Rapists? It doesn't matter. These men all come together for a common cause and work as a team to achieve it. They sacrifice themselves for the others, just as Cox realizes that freedom doesn't have to be of the body, but can also be of the mind.
It was only yesterday that I had the chance to watch a film that is
little known, yet somehow managed to make it to my nearest Vue cinema
in-between some of the current, perhaps contrived blockbusters that are
on our screens currently. So it was only with great surprise that this
film, which I had heard great things about after it debuted earlier
this year at Sundance had a screening, after some persuasive actions on
a friend, I was able to settle down for what I hoped would turn out to
be a memorable prison film. At a first glance The Escapist would appear
to be your usual affair of a prison drama, however Rupert Wyatt has
done far more than that in this wonderful existential, puzzle box of a
film, it drives on with true mystique and leaves you as the viewer
questioning the true structure of the narrative as it thrives you along
to the thrilling, lynchian climax.
The opening of the film begins the puzzle with what appears at first to be a strange narrative choice, you join a number of inmates that are seemingly in the midst of a prison break. The thumping electronic score sets your heart racing with a mixture of confusion and interest. Just as you think your in the middle of the escape, the director makes what seems to be a very questionable editing choice. He appearingly jump cuts back in time, before the escape. The film itself constantly jumps between the escape and the lead up to the escape. Throughout the first half of the film I must admit I found this seemed to hurt the pace of the film, but that's only if you take this as a conventional Prison-Escape film. This isn't Escape From Alcatraz. And this narrative style that is explored through the film becomes clear more and really begins to pick up the pace in the second half, and the climax of the film really does show this choice of structure really did compliment the story. You genuinely are knocked out by the films climax, it's on the same level as Memento, and you feel equally fulfilled by the end of The Escapist.
The cast is really five star, lead by the wonderfully diverse Brian Cox as the haunted, subdued life sentence serving inmate Frank Perry. Arguably his career defining performance. He brings multiple layers to the character impressively without much dialogue, it's a powerful, albeit silent performance for the most part, but you genuinely feel for his character, and without giving anything away you will understand why when you do see the film, as the main story point is what leads to the engineering of the escape. Cox is joined by a fantastic supporting cast of some of the finest English actors around today. For the most part there appearances are often short, but there screen time does more than enough to create the tense, look behind your back atmosphere you would expect in any prison film. Steven Mackintosh gives a chilling performance as the stereotypical inmate that is always the prisons big bad. He takes a distinct liking towards Perrys new cellie, with some unnerving results. His fictional older brother in the film, the "leader" of the cell block is played by the wonderful Damian Lewis who I became a big fan of after Band Of Brothers. He has considerably less screen time here but for me, his chilling stares, and few words were some of the most memorable for me after the credits rolled.
The cinematography of the film is quite simply incredible. With a bleak grey tone to the film that keeps the existential atmosphere brooding in the background. Much of the film takes place in vast maze's of underground tunnel works. The filmmakers managed to captured a claustrophobic feel towards the ongoing story. Full of black shadows and long, seemingly endless age old tunnels that are barely lit by the flickering orange flame from their cell-made torch's. The cinematography really helps compliment the enclosure of the prison, both inside it, as well as the escape. Their really isn't anywhere to go, its dark, brooding, and downright terrifying. As you would expect a prison to be! The Escapist really is a revelation in regards of modern cinema. It just reels you into the story from the get go and takes you on a bleak ride through the dark underbelly of the prison, metaphorical in its tone, Rupert Wyatt really has crafted something wonderful here. The film defiantly leaves you with that deep satisfaction that Britain has been getting some blisteringly good films as of late, alongside films like Dead Man Shoes, it gives you the sense that there is still a lot of great to come.
Frank Perry is twelve years into a life sentence when he learns that
his estranged daughter has become a junkie on the outside. Unable to do
anything for her from his cell and unwilling to wait till he gets out,
Frank comes up with a base plan to escape from the prison and brings
several other prisoners on board to assist him. The escape itself can
be worked out to detail and timings but in the meantime it is the days
leading up to the escape that prove to be the more testing in a world
of betrayal, power, rape, murder and drug use.
Watching the trailer for this film some time ago I was left not particularly fussed about whether I got to see it or not it just looked like I expected and offered little. The generally good reviews made me check it out when it was released on DVD though and I'm glad that I did because this is a much better film than it looks on the trailer. It is not that the plot is something different from a prison movie , although it is a little, it is the manner of delivery that makes the film work as well as it does. The concept is strong but it is the editing and structure that are the driving forces here. We start the film in two places. On one hand we are with the group as they start their escape attempt, while on the other hand we are some time before this when Frank gets his motivation to escape.
What this structure does is increase the tension by having two dramatic threads happening at the same time, with the escape itself delivering the pace to pay off against the build-up that is happening at the same time in the other thread. Rather than building up to the escape then the film does both at the same time and it is an effective and engaging technique. The point where one thread catches the other isn't totally convincing in some regards and I'll not be the only person to express a slight doubt at the dramatic punch of the conclusion but, with being caught up in the story so effectively up till this point, it does work and the way that it slightly undoes the impact of some of the film that had gone before is not a killer of a problem so much as it is a minor niggle.
Wyatt's direction is roundly good and, as co-writer, he makes the most of the structure and material. It helps of course when your debut feature has an impressive collection of actors and performances and Wyatt's does. As he also showed in Red recently, Cox makes an engaging leading man when given the chance. Fiennes is not quite so good as he perhaps overdoes his swagger and toughness still looks the part and does well but again he is a slight niggle. I liked Cunningham's turn as well as Cooper although the latter had a bit of a wet and less engaging character to work with. Brazilian musician Jorge was a bit of a weird find but did OK. Mackintosh is engaging and convincing in how he acts knowing he is technically untouchable due to the actions of his brother. Lewis is not in the film for much of the running time but his "less is more" approach produces a real menace when he is given the camera.
The Escapist is a comparatively small British film full of faces you'll recognise but nobody who is a real "leading man" in film terms, directed by Wyatt making his feature debut after a few shorts to his name. However it is cleverly structured and delivered with a real sense of quality in the story, direction and performances. It is not perfect but it is much better than the trailer suggests and I was pleasantly surprised by how much it engaged me and how much I enjoyed it.
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