Thursday, April 2, 2009

THE ESCAPIST: Rupert Wyatt breaks out

A first full-length film as good as Rupert Wyatt's THE ESCAPIST is rare. When it' s a genre movie in one of the more difficult genres to manage -- the prison break -- his feat is even more remarkable. Boasting a cast of actors so fine, you'd probably go see them in anything, the film is fast, fractured (in enormously accomplished fashion) and so rigorously unsentimental that the tiny smile that flickers across Brian Cox's face toward the end is enough -- suddenly and at last -- to break your heart. The movie itself should lift your spirits, not so much for its content as for its stylish accomplishment.

Cox (shown above, center) riveting as ever, is joined here by Damian Lewis (shown below), Joseph Fiennes (above, left), Liam Cunningham (above, right -- and also currently in Hunger), Dominic Cooper (shown bottom right), Steven Mackintosh and Brazil's Seu Jorge. Each man inhabits his character fully and ferociously, with very few words. This is not a talkative picture. Even when the men make plans for the break, so as not to be overheard, they do it as much via symbols as conversation. While the film appears to be very tightly structured, this, I think, is an illusion. Yet it works so well that I shall not complain. Were The Escapist told in a more standard time sequence, I suspect it would be almost -- perhaps every bit -- as exciting and suspenseful. Wyatt has chosen to break up his narrative, co-written with another newcomer Daniel Hardy, into a piece of the "event," followed by what led up to that piece; then another piece/lead-up, then another, and another until --

If I felt somehow cheated by what happens after that "until," I must admit to being completely swept away by all that came before. Not since Le Trou have I been captured as fully by any film about a prison break. Wyatt, his editor (Joe Walker), cinema-tographer (Philipp Blaubach) and production designer (Jim Furlong) have created such believable locations and then shot them and edited the footage to within an inch of its life. Consequently, we viewers have little time (or certainly little inclination) to do anything but follow headlong after this intrepid group of men.

The movie, though 103 minutes long, feels shorter -- which is rather the opposite of many of the films encountered these days. One of the most famous short stories in the canon of American fiction provided the inspiration for the film. To say anything more about this will give away far too much. The Escapist -- distributed via IFC Films-- opens Friday, April 3, at NYC's Village East Cinema.

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