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Sundance Review: ‘The Escapist’ is a Valiant Effort from a First Time Director

Brian Cox stars as a man who decides to escape from his life-long prison sentence to see his dying daughter one last time.
By  · Published on January 23rd, 2008

I feel like I can be honest with you at this point. I have written 14 movie reviews in the last 6 days and countless others over the past 2 years of running this site, so I can open up to you. I must admit that I am not that in to prison movies. Some have theorized that I just have a problem with prison life itself — the HBO series Oz never failed to scare the ever-loving shit out of me. I just don’t like prisons, and with the exception of The Shawshank Redemption, I don’t get into prison movies. So keep that in mind as you read this review.

The Escapist is a prison movie, so I am already predisposed to not like it. Needless to say, that does not give a fair shot to first time director Rupert Wyatt. It is obvious that the man had a very solid vision; a vision to which he stayed true throughout the film. He also succeeded in pulling together and excellent cast that delivered very strong performances.

Wyatt’s vision is of a very character driven, intense film about prisoners who come together and plan their escape. Brian Cox plays Frank, a man who is in for life but decides that he needs to leave when his estranged daughter suffers a drug overdose. He becomes the leader of this pack that includes a tough guy (Joseph Fiennes), a trusted friend (Liam Cunningham), the jailhouse drug dealer (Seu Jorge) and the new guy (Dominic Cooper). Together they attempt to avoid the vicious Rizza (Damian Lewis) who seeks to control everything that happens within the wall of the prison.

As far as prison films go, The Escapist is an intense story with plenty of depth. It features an excellent cast that delivers very engaging performances, chief among them is Brian Cox. Cox has long been content with being a character actor, generally delivering fantastic supporting performances. But in the lead, Cox shows something that audiences that only remember him from movies like X-Men 2 or The Bourne Supremacy — he shows that he can carry a film if called upon to do so.

But while the performances are good, the film does not come without its problems. Some of the story lines are left quite undercooked in the end, leaving the audience with more questions than answers. At only 99 minutes, this film would have been alright had they wanted to extend some of the narrative to help explain the motives of some of the escapees. Also, while the film’s score, which was composed by Benjamin Wallfisch, seemed very on-purpose in that it built with the tension of the film, there where times when it became unnecessarily loud, overpowering the film that was happening behind it.

For those looking for a decent prison escape film, The Escapist is worth a look. It is a solid outing from a young director who shows moments of great potential, but also makes some rookie mistakes. It will entertain those who seek films along this line, but it could fail to breakthrough to anyone looking to chance it. All in all, as someone who really doesn’t get into prison dramas, I was neither impressed nor was I disappointed — in the end that is probably a good thing.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)