The Escapist DVD review

Brian Cox is the old lag looking for a way out in this prison-break yarn...

The Escapist

Already stuck in prison for 14 years and with no obvious grounds for release, Frank Perry (Brian Cox) languishes in his cell watching – and keeping well clear of – the violent and drug-riddled behaviour of Rizza (Damien Lewis) and brother Tony (Stephen Mackintosh).

However, when Perry receives a letter telling him that his daughter is seriously ill, he decides that he needs to make a quick escape, and gathers an assortment of fellow convicts (Joseph Fiennes and Liam Cunningham, amongst others) to help. A plan soon develops to tunnel out and travel through the maze of pipework and transport that lies underneath London, causing serious problems in the relationships between the inmates and, depending on how you see the ending, leading to tragedy.

Winner of a Scottish BAFTA for Cox’s performance and a BIFA for its production, The Escapist is lauded in various reviews for its “strong sense of style”, “innovative take on the prison genre”, “sympathetic characters” and “heart-stopping final sequence”. It also gets an astonishingly high 88% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Naturally, then, I didn’t like it. A confusing structure prevents any real tension building up, as we cut almost constantly between the escape itself and various scenarios that have already taken place. All of these revolve around some cliche – a brutal bare-knuckle fight, an inevitable scene in the showers, and a man cutting his own thumb off. If none of these appeal, neither will the rest of the film, which is at best grim and at worst deeply unpleasant. The prison, an unregulated hellhole with no apparent management or cleaners, seems not to exist in the modern world and certainly won’t be winning any ‘high performance’ awards from the Ministry of Justice. The initial list of what the characters have done to get themselves put away is hardly likely to have you cheering them on, and one particularly cringe-worthy scene of a drag parade is so unnecessary to proceedings that it’s difficult to believe it wasn’t just shoved in there for its shock value.

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The plot, which is based on Ambrose Bierce’s 1890 short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, has one or two mildly preposterous bits in the middle and a completely preposterous bit at the end. The twist is dubious; you will think it brilliant or ridiculous based on how much you have bought into the whole affair.

The acting talent on display is mostly excellent, although Joseph Fiennes fans should be warned that they will barely recognise him. The nerve-shredding soundtrack was on the list for the 2008 World Soundtrack Awards, and Director Rupert Wyatt was nominated for a further BIFA for the dark, highly-stylised cinematography.

I, however, care not for awards. This is a macho prison break film trying to be something more than other macho prison break films when there really isn’t much more to be. If you enjoy the genre, you will undoubtedly find something to enjoy, but everyone else may find themselves wishing they could dig a tunnel straight to the end.

Extras The DVD extras are uninspiring, comprising the standard director’s commentary, short ‘making of’ and ‘behind the scenes’ sections, an even shorter storyboarding sequence and the theatrical trailer.


2 stars
2 stars


2 out of 5