Lifer Frank Perry (Brian Cox) is determined to break out of prison to see his daughter one last time as she succumbs to drugs. He assembles a crew to help carry out his plan - right hand man Brodie (Liam Cunningham), hardman Lenny Drake (Joseph Fiennes) and resident drug dealer Viv Baptista (Seu Jorge). As they prepare for the breakout, Frank's focus is distracted by the arrival of a young con, Lacey (Dominic Cooper), who reminds him of days long gone. As the new kid on the block, Lacey also attracts the sadistic attention of Tony (Steven Macintosh), the drug-addict brother of wing-king Rizza (Damian Lewis), putting their plan under threat.
Review by Louise Keller:
Brilliant or obscure? Engaging or pretentious? Intense performances, artistic cinematography, ambitious editing and eclectic music are the filmic elements, but obtuse storytelling with almost incomprehensible dialogue (bad mix coupled with hard to understand Irish accents) completes the picture. One thing is for sure, The Shawshank Redemption, this is not. Co-writer and director Rupert Wyatt's has a vision and it is high concept where prison break movies are concerned. But after 30 minutes I was bewildered; after an hour I was bored; by the end of the film I was catatonic and thankful it was over.
Dialogue has mostly been replaced by music and editing that is nearly as violent as the finger chopping scene. The music is often terrific - eclectic at times, discordant and sometimes strident. But the context and the way it is incorporated into the storyline is so contrived that it grates. As for the editing, we are thrown into different time frames with such disdain for comprehension, that even if we understand the storyline rhythms, we are irritated. There's no faulting the performances, though. Brian Cox heads the strong cast as Frank Perry, the crim jailed for life who dreams of seeing his daughter again, while Joseph Fiennes and Dominic Cooper are solid as fellow inmates.
Wyatt describes the mood of the prison environment and we are given snapshots of life on the inside. There's the daily routine, the book-lending, the laundry, the communal showers, the visits to the chapel, boxing as a blood sport, the thuggery, the threats, the violence. There are enigmatic conversations in the prison cafeteria using dominos as symbolism. The escape, which occurs at the beginning, is then described with jumpy flashbacks throughout the film. We are not sure what we are seeing or hearing, where we are or what is happening. By the end, we realise what the filmmaker is trying to achieve, but by then it is far too late; we have already lost interest.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The longest death scene in movies brings to an end this shambles of a movie, which so exhausts our patience that by the time the twist is revealed we are past caring. A number of disastrous creative decisions combine to form the perfect storm in one film. Dialogue is almost indecipherable; images are almost indistinguishable; story is incomprehensible; time shifts are infuriating.
Without spoiling the story, it's enough to say that Rupert Wyatt is intent on creating a parallel time line to tell this otherwise simple story of a group of prisoners planning an escape. The best escape movies use linear exposition and clear physical context, so the audience can take part in the journey. Here, with its secret payload waiting to be unloaded at the end, the filmmakers succumb to the temptation of trying to have their escape movie cake and eat the psychological drama, too.
It doesn't work. Much of the film is dark and shot in close up so we can't really tell where we or the characters are. Pity to waste these fine actors; Brian Cox is given too much rope and often overacts, while prison heavy Rizza (Damian Lewis) is a snarling stereotype; Joseph Fiennes likewise and it's only Dominic Cooper who manages to create a credible character of the young con thrown into a nasty situation.
Some scenes seem oddly redundant, like the one in the showers (of one many shower scenes) where Cooper's Lacy is confronted by knife wielding Tony (Steve Macintosh), Rizza's drug addicted brother with a nasty streak. After they disappear in the mist, there is no sign of what happened. Not that we are able to keep up with the mental splits required, as Wyatt hurls us back and forth from the lead up and planning to the escape.
The twist doesn't have enough going for it in this execution to make the preceding 90 minutes worth the battle to see and hear the action, and the drawn out ending is both schmaltzy and fake.
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ESCAPIST, THE (MA)
CAST: Brian Cox, Damian Lewis, Joseph Fiennes, Seu Jorge, Liam Cunningham, Dominic Cooper, Vinnie McCabe
PRODUCER: Alan Moloney, Adrian Sturges
DIRECTOR: Rupert Wyatt
SCRIPT: Rupert Wyatt, Daniel Hardy
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Philipp Blaubach
EDITOR: Joe Walker
MUSIC: Benjamin Wallfisch
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jim Furlong
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 16, 2009