(IFC) Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Liam Cunningham, Dominic Cooper, Seu Jorge, Damian Lewis, Steven Mackintosh, Ned Dennehy. Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Those who are imprisoned for life at some point become resigned to their lot in life, finding a way to come to terms with their situation. It becomes necessary to find a way to fit into the vicious prison society, making no waves and calling as little attention to themselves as possible. It is a means of survival for those who can find no other way.
Frank Perry (Cox) is such a man, in a British prison for the rest of his life. He exists day to day within his own routine, allying himself neither with the Screws nor with the Cons, a prison gang led by the reptilian Rizza (Lewis) whose brother Tony (Mackintosh) is a despicable, heartless monster who takes an unhealthy interest in Lacey (Cooper), a newly arrived inmate convicted of a white collar crime who becomes Frank’s new cellmate.
Frank has bigger problems than that however. He receives a letter from his wife informing him that his daughter has overdosed and is in critical condition. He rises from the fog he lives in, his instincts as a father driving him to be by his stricken daughter’s side. The only way he can do that is to escape.
He gathers with him a crew of the silent and violent Lenny (Fiennes), the drug concoctor Viv Batista (Jorge), the smart and brutally efficient Brodie (Cunningham) and somewhat accidentally, Lacey. However, the machinations of Rizza and Tony put Frank’s plans at risk, leading to an act of violence which will change the entire outcome of the prison break.
It’s a very simple concept and really, this little bit gives you all the plot you need to know. The mark of a good movie is that it makes the most use of a very little. The result is neither boring nor standard.
First-time director (and co-writer) Wyatt tells the back story and the escape concurrently as parallel arcs, letting them weave through each other in such a way that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. It’s very effectively done, increasing the dramatic power of the ending nicely.
Cox is perfect for the role of the cynical con, keeping his head down in an environment that is without pity or morality. It is Darwin taken to its logical but remorseless extreme and Cox’s Frank Perry fits in like a chameleon, surviving under the radar. Frank has the instincts of a survivor; it’s not that he isn’t tough when he needs to be but he’s smart enough to realize that his toughness isn’t going to get him through. All that changes when his daughter’s life is on the brink and his instincts as a father take over. It’s a powerful transformation and Cox pulls it off nicely.
In fact, the supporting roles are nicely drawn up and are somewhat more complete than usual, a refreshing and admirable movie experience. Fiennes is particularly a revelation, having very little dialogue but pulling off a persona very different than his most prominent role as William Shakespeare.
The prison environment depicted is realistic; less the high-tech environments depicted in television shows like “Prison Break” and “Oz” and more along the lines of the kind of slammer you’d find in The Shawshank Redemption. It isn’t pretty, but then you wouldn’t expect it would be.
This isn’t a movie for the faint of heart, nor is it one for those who like having their stories spoon fed to them. It requires a little adventurousness from the viewer and a little bit of faith that the payoff will be worth the ride, and so it is. The Escapist doesn’t reinvent the prison break movie but it certainly delivers a new take on it, and on that basis alone is worth checking out.
WHY RENT THIS: Cox delivers a powerful performance as a man moved to desperate acts. The parallel storytelling lends dramatic punch to the climax.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The depiction of prison life may be too realistic for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of prison brutality, violence, and sexual assault, enough to make this for mature audiences only.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The part of Frank Perry was written specifically for Brian Cox.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: Shrek Forever After