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The Escapist - Review

The Escapist

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary with Rupert Wyatt and Dominic Cooper; The Making of The Escapist; Behind the Scenes; Theatrical Trailer; Storyboard Comparison.

PRISON movies so often find themselves restricted by the limitations of their genre. But while Rupert Wyatt’s debut movie, The Escapist, certainly finds itself confined to the same playing field, it’s a clever new addition that has fun toying with convention.

Veteran criminal Frank Perry (Brian Cox) is resigned to seeing out the remainder of his days behind bars until he receives a letter from his estranged daughter informing him that she is critically ill following an overdose. Determined to see her one last time, Frank attempts to escape and recruits fixer Brodie (Liam Cunningham) and hard-man Lenny (Joseph Fiennes) to help him carry out the plan.

But the arrival of new young con, James Lacey (Dominic Cooper), adds complications and Frank must decide whether to take his new cellmate under his wing and risk the wrath of prison sadist Tony (Steven Mackintosh) and his older brother Rizza (Damian Lewis), the unofficial prison head.

The Escapist hooks from the beginning by making clever use of a fractured narrative, cutting between the breakout itself and the build up to it. Hence, it poses questions about its central characters that are only answered as the film progresses. It also tips its hat to established genre rules without necessarily copying them for exploitative thrills (such as scenes involving prison barbarity, which are suggested rather than depicted in all their ugliness).

The prison itself is a maximum security detention facility more akin to America, which houses the worst of the worst, and offers very little chance of escape. As such, the sense of impending violence and failure hangs heavily in the air throughout and offers the top drawer British cast plenty to sink their teeth into.

Cox almost inevitably emerges with the most credit, his wily veteran offering a fascinating character to be around as he’s forced to wake from his slumber to do what’s right by his daughter and cellmate. But there’s strong support from the likes of Fiennes, as a volatile bruiser; Lewis, as a softly spoken killer, and Cooper, as the youngster clearly out of his depth.

Wyatt also maintains a good pace and seldom opts for the predictable, a ploy that keeps the film in surprisingly good nick for a clever twist ending that most viewers won’t have seen coming.

So, for those seeking an expert mix of Prison Break-style thrills and Shawshank Redemption-inspired male bonding, The Escapist offers plenty of both. It is, to coin a phrase, a cracking piece of escapism.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 102mins
UK DVD Release: February 9, 2009