Friday, December 18, 2009

452) The Escapist (2008)

452) The Escapist (2008) Dir: Rupert Wyatt Date Released: April 2009 Date Seen: December 19, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

While most people will likely disagree, Rupert Wyatt's The Escapist deserves to be called a high concept film and would more than likely benefit from that description. Its premise is treacherously simple--Brian Cox leads a prison break--because it's every bit about the "prison break" genre as it is about Cox's plan. "The frontiers are my prison," sings a prescient crooner over the film's dimly lit first scene, a scene whose single source of lighting provides Cox's character with a womb-like halo of dull white illumination. He is safe for that moment because the film's events, driven on a roller-coaster-like trajectory of flashbacks and forwards that will overtake him and lead him to the inevitable escape, has not yet begun. There's still time for him, making that moment of reflection an integral introduction for us and point of departure for him.

What makes Rupert Wyatt and co-writer Daniel Hardy's script such a treat is that it presents the characters not as psychologically defensible characters unto themselves but as archetypes within a genre. Wyatt and Hardy hit the ground running and allow the micro-systems within the prison that each pro and antagonist represents to define them. There's the drug-dealing librarian, the user snitch, the muscle, the old hand/confidante and the fish. Outside of those types, as Cox tells the prison's king cellmate, "You don't exist." The film then is Cox's chance to defy expectations and to break out of his role as the wizened mastermind that's too old for this shit. The film's integral twist, in that sense, has to come out of nowhere by necessity because otherwise, we as viewers could see it coming and have a chance to stop him by not caring. It's a one-note climax but a good one and one built on a sturdy foundation of generic knowledge. Brian Azzarello's got competition.

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