Release Date: April 3
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writers: Daniel Hardy and Rupert Wyatt
Cinematographer: Philipp Blaubach
Starring: Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Liam Cunningham, Seu Jorge
Studio Information: IFC Films, 102 mins.
The Escapist, directed by Rupert Wyatt, is a high-octane, efficiently executed British film about a prison break. The story runs along two tracks: One shows us the escape itself, which begins with the film’s first shot, and the other flashes back to gray-haired inmate Frank Perry (Brian Cox) and his band of accomplices who are planning their flight to freedom.
Twisting together a pair of contrapuntal timelines isn’t easy, unless, maybe, you’re William Faulkner. Most others who try it end up with one story that’s significantly more interesting than the other and a film that toddles on uneven stilts. Often this ping-pong structure seems to encourage storytellers to stretch one of the threads into a languorous dead zone just to make its events line up properly with the action in the other, but in this case, the two lines push each other along. You’d think the good stuff would be in the escape, but the flashbacks feed us context for the events we just saw or the ones we’re about to, and I found that I looked forward to the switches because of the satisfying way everything snapped together.
No one will mistake The Escapist for Robert Bresson’s contemplative A Man Escaped nor Frank Darabont’s sentimental favorite The Shawshank Redemption. It’s swifter, grittier, and louder than the typical escape movie, but it still falls firmly within the tradition of underground breakouts. This maximum security prison is devoid of computers, TVs, and high-tech weight machines, making it hard to pinpoint the exact setting. And the stacked tiers of barred passageways, the master light switch that echoes with a thunk, and the social spaces that crawl with dangerous men all paint a picture of a classic stony lonesome like Alcatraz. Only Perry’s flip clock situates the film somewhere in the last 40 years, and if I were an expert in the field of industrial laundering equipment, the giant tumble dryer might, too. We get a few more specific clues near the end, but until then it’s an abstract setting of pure, old-fashioned dirt, steel, and torches. With a strong cast and strong sense of storytelling, Wyatt and co-writer Daniel Hardy have combined those elements into an elegant first feature.
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