Update: with No Escape now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD, we’ve added a behind the scenes clip at the bottom of this post.
Every now and then a film comes along, slightly left of centre, with very little fanfare and a poster that promises nothing out of the ordinary, yet manages to work from the first frame to the last. No Escape is one such delight, proving to be an especially tight and well-crafted thriller that relentlessly throws peril and thrills at the audience with barely an intake of breath.
Incidentally if you’re already intrigued I’d suggest avoiding the trailer and even this review to get the full impact, as far too many of the film’s more tense moments are spoilt out of context.
Curiously, the promotional material made No Escape look like it would either fall into a bleak political drama, or a by the numbers action flick, but somehow it manages to feel a little different in its execution, incorporating an uneasy and dark humour amongst the violence and thrills. At times, especially at the start of the film, there are scenes that wouldn’t look out of place in a horror film, as the angry hordes set about killing everyone in their way, leaving some locations abandoned and bloody but for the sound of distant screaming. That the stream of murderous carnage is being committed by human beings, rather than some supernatural monster, makes it all the more powerful as there’s a force of intelligence that drives the constant game of cat and mouse.
Of course, any film with pursuit at its heart requires an investment in the central characters, and it’s for this reason that Owen Wilson’s casting, while likely to prove divisive for some, is a masterstroke.
There seems to be a constant need for actors to be pigeon-holed and cut into easily digestible chunks, which always tend to irk me – when Liam Neeson did Taken it seemed that the media chose to ignore the fact he’d had a constant stream of action on his resume since the start of his career. Likewise with Birdman it was hailed as the return of Michael Keaton even though he’d appeared twice already that year on the big screen, albeit in supporting roles, but hasn’t stopped working since the seventies.
With Wilson there’s already been talk of his turn in No Escape marking a departure into action yet, for me anyway, he was an actor I first got to know through his action roles – Armageddon, Behind Enemy Lines, I Spy and the Shanghai movies – so it seems like more of a welcome return to the genre and one that he’s proved to have an already successful track record in.
What works so well about his turn in No Escape is the unpredictability of watching how far his naturally laid back persona can be stretched and twisted when he’s backed into a corner and it certainly marks his most brutal transformation yet. There’s also the clever notion that his clearly defined American features and blonde hair cause him to stick out like a sore thumb, when all he and his family need to do is stay hidden and anonymous, as there’s no mistaking Owen Wilson in a crowd.
Making up Wilson’s family are his wife and two daughters, played by Lake Bell, Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare, who all put in solid performances and ramp up the requisite level of fear that help to keep events at seat edge. Speaking of which, I should point out that in a rare moment at a press screening I witnessed multiple shrieks and even some face hiding during some of the more intense scenes, which gives you an idea of how well the film holds its tension.
Thankfully Lake Bell’s character is only given over to the odd moment of believable, yet utterly frustrating incompetence in the face of death, which is one area in which the film could have benefited from a little tweak. That said, if you were to cast someone like the awesome Gina Carano in such a role, the result would have been a little less real and a little more In The Blood, which would shift much more into straight action and Bell is at least given some development over the duration, even if Wilson is leading the way.
No Escape also features gratuitous scenes of a bearded, cockney Pierce Brosnan and believe me when I say a little Brosnan goes a long way. Being a rather substantial fan of his work I was initially drawn to the film because he was in it, but during the opening credits when the notorious ‘and’ appeared in front of his name it did cause me to panic slightly about how much screen time he’d actually get. I’m pleased to say, without giving too much away, that it’s a great role and one that allows him to relish every minute, with his character functioning in a way that makes him feel like a spiritual successor to the likes of Julian Noble and Andy Osnard in The Matador and The Tailor Of Panama respectively, tapping into that vein of sinister sleaze.
Sadly the film is no relation to the nineties slice of Ray Liotta joy, but then we can’t have it all.
In much the same way as the first Taken appeared out of nowhere to deliver an unexpectedly decent thriller from one single and simple central concept, No Escape follows suit with barely a frame wasted during its modest runtime. It deftly mixes explosive with intimate, with director John Erick Dowdle’s previous experience of claustrophobic horror leaving a mark on the film as a whole. Well worth a look, this one.
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