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SUNDANCE ’08! Another New Spy Reviews THE ESCAPIST!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. As much as I enjoy the familiar faces sending in Sundance coverage, I also look forward to the new contributors each fest, the people who are moved to send us their first reviews. I’m always interested to see what film it is that inspires that first submission, and in this case, I’ve heard good things already about the picture being discussed:

Hey Harry, Just came back from the premiere showing of The Escapist at the Sundance Film Festival. Brian Cox and the rest of the crew were on hand. Apparently it was the first time he saw the completed film so it was interesting watching it together with him. Any way as the film blurb advertises Frank Perry (Cox) is leading a fairly content life in prison (to the extent that this is possible). That all changes when he gets a letter informing him that his daughter overdosed; Frank blames his own absence for her ill-turn in life and is overcome with the need to see her. So he sets about planning an escape with the help of some of his buddies. The film is for the most part a prison-break flick, mixed together with a bit of films like The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen. In fact afterwards the director (Rupert Wyatt) mentioned that he intended the film to establish iconic characters; it even ends with a 70s style homage of sorts, flashing the image and name of each character before the actual credits. While the various characters are interesting, especially the prison kingpin Rizza (Damian Lewis) and his psychosexual brother Tony (Steven Mackintosh), for the most part plot seems to trump character. It’s not that the characters fail to be authentic; it’s just that we don’t get to know them very well beyond their special “jobs” in the escape process. Speaking of characters, Cox is great, playing his role strong and silent for the most part. When he finally unleashes some emotion near the film’s end, it’s equally shocking and enthralling. In fact the film’s transition near the end from prison-break film to more of a character study may be its greatest strength and weakness. For the majority of the run-time it is a fairly entertaining if classifiable genre film, interweaving prison politics and the intricate details of the escape. Near the end it becomes a much more character-driven/psychological/moral piece, and while it does so in an interesting and welcome way, it felt a bit jarring, like I was watching a different movie than I had realized. That is just one of the many ways that this film is tricky. Besides switching genres on us, it also goes for a twist at the end that threatens to invalidate the entire buildup. While the ending worked for me, I can see some people feeling a bit cheated. The editing also takes some getting used to; the film jumps back and forth between the planning of the escape and the actual escape process itself. At first I was disappointed with this choice, because I felt like it robbed the film of tension by revealing the climax too soon and spreading it throughout the film. However, I grew to like this technique, not only because it allowed the characters to discuss an aspect of the escape and then immediately show its performance before getting buried by yet another detail, but also because as the film progressed, I wondered more and more how they would even manage to attempt the escape. The prison politics that Frank and his friends have to overcome before they can even think about escaping provide the real tension in the film, as well as its moral heart and most of the character development. By the time the film ends, it becomes clear why this sort of editing was the necessary choice. Overall I enjoyed this film. The acting is restrained but perfect as allowed, the characters interesting and sympathetic, and the plot engaging. I should also mention the score, which perfectly keeps the film going, and the visuals, which especially in escape sequence are amazing. Despite not giving me all I wanted at times and some problems deciding on a genre, The Escapist was a great escape… I mean great entertainment. I’m attending a few more films over the course of the week (one great advantage of living in Utah), so I’ll report on anything else I like (or hate for that matter). If you use this you can call me The Professor.
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