Thursday, 12 March 2009

"The Escapist" - A Review of the 2008 Movie Released on DVD in January 2009.

“I’m Gonna Make Things Right…”

Prison breaks have been done to death in movies over the last few decades, but what puts "The Escapist" a cut above the rest is the clever way the story is told and the top-notch ensemble cast of Irish, Scottish and English actors - many of whom break form to get down and dirty in sewers and tube tunnels for the role.

Doubling as a London nick - the turn of the century tiny-celled warren that is Kilmainham jail in Dublin is brilliantly and evocatively used - it feels like old school Wormwood Scrubs. Confidently directed by Rupert Wyatt - who also co-wrote the script with Daniel Hardy - you get a tense, scary, yet human telling of lost lives and the hell of internment without hope.

Using a technique of present day mixed with flashbacks to explain how the characters got to where they are in the present day - the film manages to keep your attention - and as it unfolds slowly, it wins you over to its characters - whether they be good or bad.

In this cauldron of steaming shower sex and bare-knuckle hard types - the screws turn a blind eye and take backhanders as the cons are ruled by an amoral and ruthless Damian Lewis (Captain Winters in Band Of Brothers) - a drug-dealer not to be crossed on any count. Steven Mackintosh is truly electrifying as the gay psycho Tony who gets first dibs on the fresh meat that arrives in prison (Dominic Cooper, boyfriend of the lead girl in Mamma Mia is one of them). As Mackintosh is the sidekick of the psychotically volatile Damian Lewis character Rizza, drugged up and twitching Tony can do what he wants - including even getting to old-timer Frank. Liam Cunningham is so good too as the likeable Brodie - a steadying influence who plays chess with Frank and has a fear of tunnels - yet has often constructed them. Throw in the permanently hooded boxer Lenny played by a driven and violent Joseph Fiennes and Seu Jorge as the Rasta hustler Viv - you have a full team in place. And you can imagine what happens next...

But none of it would rise above the ordinary if it weren't for the great acting all round and especially a stunning central performance from Brian Cox as Frank Perry - anchoring the whole movie with a humanity that's genuinely touching. 14 years into a stretch and still hanging on what marbles and cunning he has left, Frank is a repentant father who longs for one of his many letters to his daughter (an 8-year old when he went in) to be replied to. When he hears what's been happening to her as a young adult in the outside world, he knows he has no choice... Cox is truly fantastic in this film - giving the film a heart - gravitas - taking it away from the clich├ęd road of graphically showing only brutality and dehumanization.

There's a very satisfying and strangely uplifting ending - and you're left with a feeling that little gem deserves far more attention on DVD than it got at the cinema.

A wicked little movie with a great all-round cast - put "The Escapist" high on your rental/to buy list - recommended.

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