Sundance Review: The Escapist
by Alex Billington
January 23, 2008
When it comes to movies about escaping from prison, Escape from Alcatraz from 1979 with Clint Eastwood takes the cake and nothing else comes close. That movie has been my absolute favorite prison escape flick for all my life, but the time has come for something else to take its place. The Escapist is what I would call a modernized, updated reinterpretation of Escape from Alcatraz with a much better soundtrack, more intense storyline, more vivid characters, and more stunning visuals - and it's set not even remotely close to Alcatraz. I was completely blown away by The Escapist, in all aspects, and I'm still recovering from how amazing it was.
The Escapist is about inmate Frank Perry (Brian Cox) who is twelve years into a life sentence and perfectly content with living behind bars for the rest of his life. This is until he receives a letter about his daughter and decides in one quick minute he must escape to go see her. Not only is the London prison an entirely brutal place with its own social system based on library cards, but the other inmates who pack the place are the typical asshole thugs. Frank devises an intricate escape plan and must recruit fellow inmates Lenny Drake (Joseph Fiennes), Brodie (Liam Cunningham), Lacey (Dominic Cooper), and Viv Batista (Seu Jorge).
The Escapist uses two parallel storylines that eventually converge to build the film. The first is showing the escape in progress, while the second is showing all of the events leading up to the escape and the preparation. Rupert Wyatt's editing techniques involve cutting between the storylines at moments where the location or the actor's actions were similar, something that mesmerized me every time. Great editing combined with an incredibly rich visual style, a riveting and inspiring story, one of the best scores I've heard in ages, and uncanny performances have resulted in my new favorite escape movie. The Escapist is a bold, energetic, intense, and inspiring film that surprised and impressed me more than almost any film at Sundance.
Although some will say story is everything with a movie, in The Escapist, not only is Frank Perry's story actually interesting (for once), but the remaining visual and aural elements outweigh the story in order to turn it into a fascinating film. Rupert Wyatt has considered all aspects of the prison atmosphere: the sound work in this is some the best all year (and deserves an Oscar nomination) and the rich visuals perfectly define this claustrophobic London prison. If you're a prison break movie fan in the slightest, then The Escapist deserves more than your undivided attention.
I've got to give a special shout out to Benjamin Wallfisch, who's work on the score in this incredible. The music in this is half of what made it so awesome. The music in The Escapist reminds me of Tyler Bate's 300 score, that was energetic, intense, and upbeat. Bravo Benjamin Wallfisch for composing one of my favorite scores of 2008.