Monday, August 13, 2018

DVDebut for Dominic Savage's unusually dark and difficult drama, THE ESCAPE

All about a woman who, to save her sanity and herself, must opt out of marriage, motherhood and maybe even -- were it on the menu -- apple pie, THE ESCAPE, written and directed by Dominic Savage, goes so quietly against some of life's ingrained tenets that it will genuinely disturb viewers happy with the status quo. When the movie opened here theatrically this past May, reviews were quite positive, yet the response of audiences, whom one would assume were mostly the "art" film crowd, has been not so good. This is one anxiety-making movie.

As both writer and director, Mr. Savage, pictured at left, has what seems an unusual way of working with script and actors (do watch the Bonus Feature interviews with both him and his star, Gemma Arterton, shown below): a kind of "lay out the bare bones of what happens, make sure your actors fully understand their characters, and then... improvise!" It works. The Escape is an intelligent, deeply-felt exploration of a woman unhappy because her life (which, yes, she has had the major hand in determining) has proven not at all satisfying.

Ms Arterton -- beautiful and extremely capable -- continues to grow as actress with each role. Last year she starred in one of 2017's best films, Their Finest, and if The Escape does not prove quite up to that level, her performance in it certainly does. Interestingly, her character of Tara has much in common with another character currently on theater screens: a married woman named Agnes, played by the great Kelly Macdonald, in the movie Puzzle.

Puzzle is the easier film to accept, not nearly as hard-edged or demanding and also closer to our status quo is finding a balance between a woman's needs and the demands of marriage/motherhood. Both films are must-sees, even if The Escape may prove difficult for more conventional folk to accept.

In the role of Tara's somewhat obtuse, self-involved but still loving/caring husband, Dominic Cooper (above, left, who starred with Ms Arterton back in 2008 in the underseen/underappreciated Tamara Drewe) makes a terrific foil for his co-star. We feel for him and his situation, even as we can also see him through Tara's tired eyes.

The filmmaker coaxes fine and very real performances from his two child actors, while Frances Barber,  French star Jalil Lespert (above) and Marthe Keller all get excellent cameos as, respectively, Tara's more traditional mother, a hot-looking photographer who trails Tara and then befriends her at a museum, and a sudden unexpected helper toward the end of her journey.

The movie belongs to Ms Arterton, however, with whom we remain at every step of this difficult voyage. So emotionally and articulately on-point is the actress at each moment that, even when we can't agree with her actions and decisions, we absolutely understand them.

By the finale, the movie has circled around to end where it began. But, my, the amazing difference between what we knew then and know now allows us to understand and (perhaps grudgingly) accept the difficult decision that has been made.

From IFC Films and running just 101 minutes, the movie hits DVD and digital streaming tomorrow, Tuesday, August 14 -- for purchase or rental.

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