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The Escapist
cast: Brian Cox, Damian Lewis, Joseph Fiennes, and Stephen Mackintosh

director: Rupert Wyatt

102 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Contender DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
In many ways the mark of a great film is how well the simple things are done. The cast, the soundtrack, the cinematography, the script and literally hundreds of other little nuances can break a film if not done right - doing one or two well does not make for a certain cinematic treat, however. In short, any one little thing which goes wrong can destroy a movie, but to make a classic, you need all the basics to work. Director Rupert Wyatt does the basics brilliantly with casual aplomb in masterful movie The Escapist. In this wonderfully constructed offering, Wyatt brings together a strong cast, not an all-star cast, and pushes them to their absolute potential.

The premise of the movie is a prisoner's need to escape from his state funded incarceration in a London jail. After more than a decade with no contact from his family, Frank Perry, played by the quite outstanding Brian Cox, receives a letter telling him his daughter is a junkie at death's door. He resolves to get out and take responsibility for sorting this issue out; an issue he feels is a direct result of his past indiscretions. To this end, Perry enlists the help of some of the establishment's more unsavoury characters. And it is here the dynamic of the film takes off as coincidences start aligning, intrigue builds and individual angles start developing. There is an undertone of grim tension which builds as the film wears on. The subtle use of background noises and the absolutely stunning application of imagery make this a feast of friction and fun for the viewer.

There are inevitable comparisons with previous works from the other side of the Atlantic, but they are both lazy and reckless. This is not The Shawshank Redemption, a film whose title misleads. The Escapist is far more about redemption, and, of course, there is Prison Break. If you are hoping Wyatt's brilliant film is an extension to the super-stretched TV franchise then you will be pleasantly surprised, only because The Escapist is superior on almost all levels.

The cast is without flaw, Damien Lewis as Rizzo, Dominic Cooper as Lacey, Joseph Fiennes as Lenny Drake, and Stephen Mackintosh as Tony, are all excellent but even they are upstaged by Cox's performance. This is the finest performance by a British actor for many a year, and it happens to be in the, arguably, finest British film for a decade. In fact, The Escapist serves as a benchmark to the strength of the industry in Britain at this moment in time, where the output is prolific and the standards high. The soundtrack haunts and delights in equal measure. Wyatt clearly understands the value and importance of the audio side of movie-making and uses carefully selected sounds and songs to carry this film along.

The Escapist is laced with clues, subtle twists and turns and an unnerving atmosphere of uncertainty that means one viewing will not do. Hell, even the extras are decent with a behind-the-scenes montage and making-of feature. Buy it, steal it, borrow it or whatever, but make sure you watch it. Twice...
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