The Escapist is a British prison drama documenting the attempted breakout of Frank Perry (Brian Cox), whose daughter is suffering from a heroin addiction.
The film has a stellar British cast: Joseph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper, Seu Jorge, Damian Lewis, Liam Cunningham all star. While there are no standout performances, there are not any particularly prominent duds either, with each actor holding up their end.
The Escapist meanders its way through a non-chronological plot to an eventually intriguing conclusion. Unfortunately, this is a film about the destination and not the journey. Events leading to the denouement never carry enough weight to get you immersed in the characters, or to make you understand their plights. In fact, we never learn why the bunch of escapees are even in jail in the first place, meaning empathy is not an option – i.e. if Cox had in fact been incarcerated for twelve counts of child molestation, we perhaps might feel a little less positive about his desire to return to the free world.
Another noticeable blotch is the oddball partnership of Damian Lewis and Steven Mackintosh, who play the film’s bad guy siblings. While they are supposed to be horrible and disturbing antagonists, neither actor manages to shake off his soft, traditionally charming exterior, meaning that throughout the film they come across as rather posh British actors pretending to be menacing ‘baddies’, which is what they are.
That all being said, there’s something about The Escapist that means it isn’t a completely rotten kettle of fish. Brian Cox does fine, though I’m not a huge fan, and the likes of Jorge and Cooper put in believable performances. What the film does well is disguising its budget constraints – the breakout scenes are filmed with intensity, and the prison interior never once looks like a set. There are also numerous bits of inventive camerawork and soundwork, giving the film a slightly slicker exterior than expected. Because of these positives when the film climaxes – and it is an unpredictable ending – you feel a slight pang of satisfaction, knowing that the previous 102 minutes have been at least worthwhile. By no means a classic, The Escapist is more Prison Break than The Shawshank Redemption.