The Escapist Review
Not even halfway through the movie’s opening song (Leonard Cohen’s ghostly version of “The Partisan”) we find ourselves in the midst of a breakout from an antiquated English prison. After fourteen years of no replies to his letters, prisoner Frank Perry (Brian Cox) learns his daughter has suffered from an overdose. He feels that he has no choice but to escape immediately. He must have seen a prison-escape movie before, because he knew he had to assemble a team of mismatched fellow inmates, each with atypical skills. This is the basic structure of “The Escapist”, but it is not a complete description of the film.
From this well-used plot line, some amazing editing is used to breathe new life into the classic “Prison break movie”. As “The Escapist” unfolds we jump back and forth between planning and the actual breakout, past and present. The editing is smooth enough that the flow of the movie was never interrupted by an unnecessary spike or drop in emotion. The cuts blend into the story-line so well that I was anxiously awaiting the next one to take me back to the planning or forward to the breakout. Closing in on the climax of the film we are rewarded with scenes from a totally new perspective playing on the knowledge that we gained over the course of the movie.
Cox steps up to the challenge of a role written specifically for him and performs it honestly. Damian Lewis does an excellent job as the all-controlling head-convict, Rizza. Lewis’ actions and tone make Rizza even more menacing than the role alone would have his character be. In an interesting twist, he is more of a threat to the conspirators than the prison guards. The prison itself plays a strong role in the film, and the producers could not have chosen a better place than the dungeon-esque Kilmainham Gaol in Ireland to shoot the movie. Its tiny cells encircle ancient metal walks and stairways giving the movie the closed-in feeling that anyone would have in prison.
With the unique editing, strong acting and perfect location choice, “The Escapist” comes together well and I enjoyed it. A few Hollywood elements, such as the punching out of an exact tooth that contained a necessary diamond (sure you did) and a convict having daily, unsupervised access to the prison pharmacy (come on), takes away from the believability. If you can forgive some artistic license, I recommend asking your local Independent movie theater to host a screening and enjoy a new take on the prison break theme. With a premier at Sundance in 2008 and a limited U.S. release in April of 2009, only a few in the States have been able to see this movie thus far.