A prisoner serving a life sentence decides to break
out so he can make peace with his dying daughter.
The Escapist (2008)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Written by Daniel Hardy and Rupert Wyatt
Starring Brian Cox, Damian Lewis, Joseph Fiennes,
Liam Cunningham, Dominic Cooper, Seu Jorge, Steven Mackintosh
The Escapist is a smart, simple, and engaging crime drama that is built solely on well-rounded characters and misdirection. I knew nothing going in, so my expectations were small. I love when a film I expect nothing from ends up being entertaining as hell and solemn in its message of what freedom really is. Anchored by the best performance Brian Cox has given in his long career as a character actor, this film is a brilliant prison break movie and a fantastic character study as well.
Cox plays Frank Perry, a prisoner on his fourteenth year of a life sentence who learns that his young daughter on the outside is dying. Unable to let her go without making his peace, Frank convinces four other inmates to break out of prison together. The ensemble is perfectly cast, particularly Damian Lewis as the imposing and psychotic prison king Rizza and Joseph Fiennes as the unhinged but brilliant thief Lenny Drake. I've never seen these two actors play characters like these and I hope I get to again someday. What sets this film apart from other run-of-the-mill prison break crime thrillers is its tone. These aren't wrongly imprisoned men. They all deserve to be in prison. The film never lets you forget that these aren't good men, and from the second the plan is enacted, we know that Frank most likely won't see it through to the end. Director Rupert Wyatt harnesses that raw tension and uses it to fool the audience until the last few seconds. It's an unexpected and fitting twist that caps off a film that deserves much more attention than it's gotten.
The Escapist teaches you more about writing great characters than most of the films I've seen. The premise is so ridiculously simple that it needed solid performances to succeed. With its fantastic cast and smart script, this film will go down as one of the happiest surprises I've ever gotten off of Netflix. It deserves to be in the spotlight and counted among the best prison break films of all time.