The Escapist


The Escapist

No cage will hold Frank Perry.

(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

New Releases for the Week of May 14, 2010


May 14, 2010
Robin Hood takes aim, which means someone is going to get perforated.

ROBIN HOOD

(Universal) Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Danny Huston, William Hurt, Max von Sydow, Mark Strong, Matthew Macfayden, Kevin Durand. Directed by Ridley Scott

The latest reimagining of the legend of Robin Hood reunites the Gladiator team of director Scott and actor Crowe. Here, a lethal bowman in the Crusades returns home to find Nottingham suffering under the rule of a despotic Sheriff enforcing the rule of a cruel monarch. Only the spirited widow Lady Marion acts as a beacon of hope for the downtrodden people of Nottingham. Robin determines to free the people from the yoke of oppression and gathers together a crew of mercenaries and outlaws to steal from the rich to give to the poor, but finds himself embroiled in larger issues – as in keeping his country from descending into a bloody civil war.

See the trailer, featurette, clips and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content)

Harry Brown

(Goldwyn) Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Liam Cunningham, Iain Glen. Harry Brown lives in a flat in a neighborhood that while once good, has fallen into ruin and crime. The police are unwilling or unable to do anything about it. Harry’s only companion is Leonard, his closest friend. When Leonard is murdered by the gang bangers, Harry – a former military man – takes matters into his own hands.

See the trailer, clips and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and sexual content)

House Full

(Eros International) Akshay Kumar, Ritesh Deshmukh, Deepika Padukone, Lara Dutta. When a young man gets fed up with all his rotten luck, he decides that only finding true love will break him out of the cursed life he is leading. The quickest way to find true love is to date as many women as possible, so he dates three women at once – and through a series of misadventures, winds up married to all three of them in this Bollywood comedy.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: Not Rated (but parental guidance recommended due to comic violence and some sexual situations)

Just Wright

(Fox Searchlight) Queen Latifah, Common, Paula Patton, Phylicia Rashad. A physical therapist finds she is falling for a pro basketball player whom she is rehabilitating from a career-threatening injury. The relationship is threatened when her man-eating best friend also sets her sights on the NBA star.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for some suggestive material and brief language)

Letters to Juliet

(Summit) Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Egan, Gael Garcia Bernal. A young American woman engaged to be married takes a vacation to romantic Verona and winds up joining a group of volunteers who answer letters from the lovelorn addressed to Juliet, of the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet. One particular letter grabs her imagination and she sets out to bring two people together who have been waiting 50 years for it, and finds the meaning of love in the process.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for brief rude behavior, some language and incidental smoking)

Hunger


Hunger

Bobby Sands seeks counsel from a priest in the most compelling scene from Hunger.

(IFC) Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, Helena Bereen, Liam Cunningham, Dennis McCambridge, Liam McMahan, Laine Megaw. Directed by Steve McQueen

Change doesn’t always come through discussion and negotiation. Sometimes, when all else fails, one must risk everything to effect meaningful change.

Bobby Sands (Fassbender) is a member of the Irish Republican Army who was imprisoned in Long Kesh, the prison the British used primarily to house members of the IRA. He and his fellow Irishmen in the prison are protesting prison conditions by refusing to shave or bathe. They yearn to be recognized as political prisoners, which they consider themselves to be, by the British government of Margaret Thatcher, who considers them nothing more than common criminals.

The prisoners are brutally beaten and forced to shave, particularly by Lohan, a guard (Graham) who seems conflicted by his duties. It is clear their tactics aren’t working. Sands decides to go on a hunger strike, a massive one involving all the prisoners until their cause is recognized. There had been a previous hunger strike that had been unsuccessful but Sands felt it was because the strikers had never been prepared to actually take that strike to its logical conclusion; it was more of a protest than a negotiation tactic.

He argues the point with a particularly level-headed Catholic Priest (Cunningham), a realist with a world view that is remarkably logical. The priest argues the ineffectiveness of the tactic as opposed to its morality; never once does he mention the word “sin.” It’s a compelling scene, shot in one, continuous take, 17 minutes worth. It is one of the longest continuous shots in the history of film and is a masterpiece of filmmaking.

Sands would refuse food for 66 days and suffered horrifying physical debilitation; kidney failure, ulcerating sores, weakness. He eventually died and became a martyr to the Irish Republican cause, a position he continues to occupy 28 years after the events of the strike.

McQueen is careful not to over-politicize the movie but it is clear his sympathies lie more with the prisoners than the Thatcher government. McQueen concentrates on prison conditions rather than on the actions that got the prisoners there in the first place which tends to make the men more sympathetic than they might have been. Nonetheless it is a compelling story, a story of will and absolute belief in a cause.

McQueen doesn’t tell this story in a conventional manner. Sands hardly appears at all until nearly halfway through the film when he decides to initiate the strike. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this – it’s clear McQueen is a gifted filmmaker. My only issue is that he has a tendency to use imagery as an end rather than a means; flocks of birds which quite obviously symbolize freedom appear often. I don’t mind a symbol; I just object to being hit in the face with it as if I couldn’t figure it out on my own.

The acting is very solid, but Fassbender and Cunningham elevate. Their scene together may be one of the best I’ve seen this year. Most of the cast aren’t well-known here in the States, but they do some very credible work in difficult circumstances.

Sands is implacable in his dedication to his cause, as fanatics are. He is willing to lead his fellow prisoners to death in order to get his point across, as indeed he did. Did he get the concessions he wanted? History tells us for the most part he did. Although the prisoners of Long Kesh were never formally recognized by the Thatcher government as political prisoners, they were in fact treated that way. In the end, the Sinn Fein would be recognized as a legitimate political entity and Ireland would eventually see peace.

The figure of Bobby Sands still looms large in the Irish psyche and to a certain extent, as a polarizing force. Some see him as a hero and a martyr while others see him as a criminal and a coward. McQueen clearly sees him as the former. For my part, I admire his dedication to the cause. However, that is tempered by my discomfort with the tactics of the IRA, who used bombs and guns to get their point across, often on innocent people. I simply can’t condone it, although there are many who feel that they were fully justified in what they did. I don’t know how I would have felt living a Catholic in Belfast in that time; perhaps I would have seen things differently. Still, this is a story that should be told and here, it is told tolerably well. While I don’t ever get the impression that I knew who the man Bobby Sands was from watching this film, I at least get a sense of what he went through at the end of his life.

WHY RENT THIS: A no punches pulled, no holds barred look at the final six weeks of IRA hunger strike organizer Bobby Sands’ life. The scene between Fassbender and Cunningham is the highlight of the movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: McQueen’s gratuitous use of flocking birds got to be annoying and unnecessary. “Look Ma, I’m directing.” McQueen’s sympathies clearly lie with the IRA, which may be difficult for some to accept.

FAMILY VALUES: A lot of male frontal nudity, depictions of graphic prison brutality as well as the effects of starvation. Not for the squeamish in any way, shape or form.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Liam Cunningham roomed with Michael Fassbender prior to filming in order to practice their 17 minute scene together, knowing it would be filmed in one continuous shot. Even though they often practiced the scene five to ten times a day for weeks, it still took four takes to get the scene right.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Prestige