The Escapist (2008)
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
it bares a resemblance, and even a few lines, to Shawshank Redemption. but then a lot of prison films do now.
however, the UK prison depiction was wholly inaccurate. British prisons have had in-cell lighting, kettles & tvs for over a decade. cons have never 'run' a whole prison, ever, anywhere. and the whole hazing/raping aspect - is a purely American phenomenon. and still you call us Brits fags!! also, there aren't any library cards as such, the common currency inside is drugs, tobacco & foodstuffs.
also, kat is an African herb, with amphetamine like qualities - as opposed to something you could knock together in an ad-hoc laboratory with oranges & fruit cake.
Directed by Rupert Wyatt, The Escapist thrives on claustrophobic atmosphere and grim prison reality to set the wheels in motion. Filmed at Kilmainham Jail in Dublin, this is a dank place, overcrowded and paint peeling from every wall; and of course there's an array of unsavoury characters just waiting to use violence or sexual proclivities to feather their respective nest. This place alone is reason enough for escape attempts, let alone the reasons put forward for our escaping protagonists. The audio on offer also enhances the mood, the clanking of metal or the rumbling of shuffling boots land in the ear drum with almost tenacious glee. There's also no overdose on dialogue, no filler conversations serving no purpose to the crux of the tale.
The cast are (prison) uniformly strong, led by the great and weathered Cox, the roll call of escapees also contains earthy Liam Cunningham, a buffed up Joseph Fiennes, a youthfully fraught Dominic Cooper and black magic gusto from Seu Jorge. While within these walls menace comes from a weaselly Steven Mackintosh and the excellently chilling Damian Lewis as nick daddy Rizza. All in all, The Escapist, if you pardon the pun, is a break out movie two fold. Not just as a story, but also in offering up something different in the genre it belongs too. Much like Brian Cox himself, The Escapist is something of a British treasure. 9/10
I'm also confused as to why someone would cast pigeon-chested effeminate guy as top-dog in a prison. Or how we are supposed to believe someone is able to manufacture Class A drugs in prison from an orange an a fruit-cake. Yes, I know we are supposed to suspend our disbelief, but I think the director could have met us half way. Of course, they do put in the rape scene, which seems to be obligatory in every film set in prison now. Yawn.
When you get to the final twist in the wafer thin plot, you realise you've just wasted another 102 mins of your life. Perhaps a few more if your daft enough to post about on a website.
"The Escapist" is beautifully made, but I cannot say I enjoyed it. The main problem was the confusing delivery of the plot. Sometimes the characters are in the prison and sometimes they are in the tunnel trying to escape. The transitions are all sudden and unannounced. I could not work out if the story was linear or delivered in flashbacks until the last five minutes, but by then I have already decided that "The Escapist" is a huge waste of time.
The ending twist makes the film considerably better. It resolves the previous confusions I have, but then five minutes of brilliance does not make up for 85 minutes of boredom.
Frank Perry (Brian Cox) is an institutionalized convict twelve years into a life sentence without parole. After years of brutal prison life he begins to feel that there is nothing to live for on the inside. When his estranged daughter falls ill, Frank is determined to make peace with her before it's too late. He develops an ingenious escape plan, and recruits a dysfunctional band of escapists misfits with a mutual dislike for one other but united by their desire to escape their hell hole of an existence.
However his dogged fight for freedom is blocked at every turn not just by the guards but also by the local psychotics that roam the prison. But Frank only has the one goal in mind and that's to come to the aid of his daughter by any means necessary. Much of the action takes place within the tunnels, sewers and underground rivers of subterranean London.
Despite the impressive cast (Brian Cox , Joseph Fiennes and Damian Lewis) The escapist is a bit of a mess. Foe some reason we see the escape happening in snap shots between the actual planning of the break out and it's totally confusing.
I wonder why directors feel the need to mess around with time lines in films?. It's a big risk to show some of the climax of a film before the end and if it fails it ruins the whole film. That's the case with The Escapist.
It's a shame because the acting deserves a much better final product . The performances from Brian Cox ( Frank) , Dominic Cooper ( Lacey) and Steven Mackintosh (Tony) are impressive but sadly to no avail.
The prison scenes are unrealistic and look almost Victorian and i was extremely surprised when halfway through the film it is disclosed that the prison was in London. I could have sworn it was in Ireland due to the amount of Irish accents. ( This was made by Parallel films an Irish Company).
Another thing is that we never find out what the characters did to get into prison in the first place . There is very little background information on the inmates so therefore i didn't care what happened to them .
If you have seen or a planning on seeing The Escapist i would like to ask you a favour. Please explain the ending to me! I was left totally bemused as to what was real and what wasn't and in the end i just wanted it to finish , escape or no escape.
If you considering watching this do yourself a favour and watch one of the three movies i mentioned at the start of this review instead . You wont regret it.
5 out of 10
I tend to like either science fiction, romance, comedies, etc and hardly ever watch prison escape or crime films. I think they're more of a 'man' thing? Anyway, my husband wanted to see this one so I thought I'd show willing, but honestly, I've got to admit, it just blew me away. It was fantastic! I won't go into the plot, suffice to say that it was gripping enough so that after the first few minutes I was totally engrossed. The acting was superb, the characters so vivid and couldn't wait to see how it would all end.
And I wasn't disappointed! I honestly never saw that twist at the end coming, I was genuinely shocked. What a great film! If you haven't seen it you absolutely must!
One gets the impression of the British prison system is entirely run by the inmates with the indifferent warders looking on. Sadly this may be a fairly accurate portrayal of a modern British prison (although the living conditions are far more comfy than depicted here thanks to 'human rights'). But the impression is that certain scenes have been created just because they look good rather than because they serve any dramatic function. There's a strange and unexplained initiation ceremony for scantily clad newcomers; the now obligatory prison rape; and the lengthy intercut (apparent) escape scenes add to the confusion, even though they are highly atmospheric.
The black drug baron is particularly ludicrous. He has an assortment of potions to hand which would make Harry Potter jealous. He's able to concoct a poisonous 'cat' substitute somewhere in the prison (not sure where, I didn't think that laboratories were standard requirements yet) over night.
The 'surprise' ending merely added more questions rather than explaining anything. The comparison made to the Dallas shower scene made elsewhere is very apt.
The Escapist is poorly written with an unconvincing plot that steals from every American prison break movie ever made.
Unfortunately stealing great scenes from other movies is great if you can make them coherent in your film.
A task that was quite beyond this director.
The ending is the biggest cop out ever, well since Bobby Ewing woke up in the shower after being killed off a year earlier.
Take my word, watch 'The Shawshank Redemption' for the millionth times, of Clint in 'Escape from Alcatraz.' Get the box set of 'Prison Break.'
Under no circumstance rent this rubbish.
Maybe it plays better overseas and in the UK but any decent film student in HS could beat this movie. I've seen good UK movies before, but can only think of cultural differences on why anyone would like this movie.
No action, no suspense, no drama, predictable plot
Best Bit: Frank's final speech
IMDb Rating: 7/10
If you liked this try: Prison Break Season 1 (9/10); Shawshank Redemption (9/10);
Phil Hobden For more reviews like this check out:
The escape attempt is hatched when Frank (played by Brian Cox), an elderly and world-weary inmate, receives his first letter in fourteen years, informing him that his daughter has become a drug addict and that her health is failing. When Frank decides that he must break out and see her before it is too late, a number of other outsiders fall in with him, each having their own reasons for trying to escape.
The prison is an intimidating place, effectively ruled by inmate Rizza (a menacing turn by Damian Lewis) and his obnoxious brother Tony. Drug dealing is rife and the new inmates are subjected to a trial of humiliation and catcalls. The prison guards are mostly complicit in these activities, offering little protection for outsiders and dissenters. In a brutal demonstration of power, Rizza forces a disobedient junkie to cut off his thumb with a knife as an act of penitence. This is one of several jolts delivered to remind the audience that the prison setting is not just there for their entertainment: it is frighteningly real.
There are a number of fine performances in the lead roles. Ralph Fiennes is excellent in the role of Lenny, a menacing, violent inmate who becomes a brave and resourceful hero during the escape attempt. Tony is a memorably revolting villain, played with aplomb by Steve Mackintosh. But it is Brian Cox who deserves the highest praise. The crucial, wordless scene where he comes face to face with his wife in the visiting room is powerfully understated and typifies his performance.
On the other hand from the grim reality of the prison, the escape attempt is a taut and exciting adventure. The escapists use improvised gadgets to make their way through the subterranean caverns that they hope will lead to the outside world. The scenery, from long underground tunnels, to cavernous sewers to a disused underground station is often spectacular and the camaraderie that develops between the five men is deeply affecting.
The two strands of The Escapist, the story behind the prison break and that of the prison break itself, are expertly juggled throughout. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout, and the film often segues between the two narratives at unexpected junctures. I will not attempt to spoil the final twist, but it is one of those great moments in cinema where all sorts of details in the preceding film fall into place (and continue to fall into place when it is all over).
Apparently the prison scenes in The Escapist were filmed in a prison-turned-museum that was restored to its original appearance for the film shoot. It is a superb location, with enclosed walkways criss-crossing the central space and a dramatic spiral staircase that Everett uses to great effect in several set pieces. What struck my friend who accompanied me to the cinema is that there are no windows for the prisoners to look out of, only a skylight in the distant ceiling. Daylight takes on an almost mystical property as the escaped prison inmates strive to escape the subterranean passages adjoining the jail.
The sound and music in The Escapist are also deserving of high praise. The score by Benjamin Wallfisch includes a thunderous theme tune and creates tension by use of frantic percussion. The sounds of the prison by day and by night are exceptionally well done, helping to create a stifling, claustrophobic world that encroaches on the minds of the viewers. By the end you cannot help rooting for the escapists.
"The Escapist" is a brilliant movie per se and a star among other escape-this-prison movies (and TV series if you know what I mean). The cast is great, Sir Brian Cox is unbelievable, Joseph Fiennes delivers a great performance, and the rest of the cast are near flawless.
I would have given this movie 10/10 if Damian Lewis was not in it. Don't get me wrong, he is a great actor, one of my most favourite after Band of Brothers, and I enjoyed his other movies a lot.. Yet he is definitely miscast in this case and the whole idea of having a really wicked person with a face of a good guy did not fly for me. Lewis is much more convincing in "Life" (during his "what I learned behind bars" moments) than here.
Again, this is a gem and I am glad I have watched it.