The Escapist - DVD Review

'This isn't the British answer to Prison Break. This is the British answer to Shawshank.'

I don't give out many five star reviews. To get what is basically a perfect score, a film has got to be unusually special. A stand-out, one-off brilliant picture. Equally I don't give out many one stars. To be that bad a film has got to be really bad. Or star Jennifer Aniston. However, if I was even slightly more liberal with my ratings then The Escapist would be a five star film.

Maybe it was the out-of-place, functional Steven Mackintosh as the leering Tony that limited The Escapist to four stars. Or maybe it was ever-so-slight miss-steps in tone that occur more occasionally than you care to notice. Possibly it was the choice to use Leonard Cohen's 'The Partisan' far too sparingly, instead opting for a pounding synth-track as replacement. Whatever the reason, The Escapist didn't quite hit me as a perfect film but I'll tell you one thing, it is bloody close.

Prior to its almost-perfect conclusion, two things stand out in The Escapist; Brian Cox and Damian Lewis. Cox's Perry is the leader of the escape gang. A quiet, dutiful prisoner, locked up for an unspecified period of time for a unspecified crime. It says something that his motives are wholly justifiable and un-motivated by greed or a wanton desire for freedom. It is the type of everyman role with a touch of bite and intelligence that Cox excels at, moving through the prison un-noticed and un-troubled by the the other inmates until he decides to turn it up a notch.

Lewis' role amounts to hardly anything more than a cameo. As Rizza, the quiet and calculated, gangland style, leader of the inmates, he is the perfect antithesis to Perry. Where Perry answers problems with philosophy and considered actions, Rizza, as you would expect, takes quiet delight in exacting violence and intimidation. The stand-offs between the two are short but there is enough subtle excellence from Lewis in Rizza to let us know who's boss, without needing to see him shouting and swearing front and centre.

Thematically too, The Escapist is an un-mitigated success. This isn't the British answer to Prison Break. This is the British answer to Shawshank. Questions are raised for each of the escapees, and the none-escapees for that matter, about what it really means to 'escape' without them ever necessarily being answered on film. Like all of the best prison dramas, this is so much more than a prison drama.

What conclusions the film does attempt to make for each of the escapees are perhaps slightly hit and miss. Joseph Fiennes, here showing a different side to his acting as Lenny, the dark horse anti-hero of the troupe, ends up having a conclusion inter-mingled with that of likable drug impresario Batista. It's not necessarily a fitting solution to either character's life outside and perhaps the most difficult to swallow of the 5 escapees.

The conclusion to Cox's own story, however, soon changes all that. His is at once simultaneously uplifting, depressing, insightful and open. It provides as many questions as it does answers and like many of the great filmic conclusions, it will have you mulling over how acceptable it is long after the final credits. I am a big fan of throwaway, popcorn-munching, Not-Half-Bad films that you watch once, enjoy and forget. But I am also a big fan of films which push the envelope, which see things like Shawshank and aspire to do it 'better'. The Escapist is one of those films.

1 comment:

  1. I really liked this film but I'd probably give it a 3.5 out of 5. I forgot to review it upon its initial release and just never got around to it after that.