I didn’t really have high expectations walking into No Escape. I thought it was going to be in a similar vein to Taken; an American family escapes from some violent third world country, a film that subtly hints to it’s home crowd that America is the best and they should never travel outside of their borders for fear of the dangerous foreigners. But, you should never judge a film by its poster/trailer, and I was presently surprised by the little gem that awaited in No Escape.
No Escape stars Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan and Sahajak Boonthanakit and is written and directed by Jon Erick Dowdle. The story follows Jack Dwyer (Wilson) who finds himself swept up in a coup in South East Asia. He must protect his family and find a way to survive the violent uprising.
The acting by nearly all is well done. Owen Wilson, who I mainly know for his comic work, plays his role of the father trying to protect his family very well. His desperate attempts to keep his children slightly amused while death and destruction await around every corner is oddly heart-breaking and moving, it’s a nice little touch to make the character more than just a bland shell. Lake Bell does well as his wife Annie, with an excellent scene in the opening stages of the coup where she uses herself as a barrier between her youngest daughter and the people who have entered the hotel to kill guests. Pierce Brosnan, as a mysterious British tourist is good, and his reveal of being a man with a “particular set of skills” has metatextual meaning, it’s basically as if James Bond got old and is still helping people out. The only problem I had with the cast is Sterling Jerins as one of the daughters, Lucy. While the other daughter “Beeze” (played by Claire Geare) is mostly silent throughout the film, Jerins shrieks and complains at nearly every incident in the film, to the point where it became a bit annoying (although at least she wasn’t as bad as the two boys in Jurassic World).
This is one of the first times recently where I’ve found shaky cam seems to work. I’ve railed against shaky cam before (see Hitman: Agent 47 and The Gunman) but here is works brilliantly. The shaky cam makes the first big uprising scene one of the most memorable in the film. The situation is one of confusion and brutal violence, and the camera conveys it well. The handheld camera vibe continues throughout the rest of the film, giving it a faux-documentary look, heightening the sense of realism.
To continue with the camera work, there are some excellent scenes and shots throughout the film. The film does a great job of “show-don’t-tell” as we see the destruction left by the violence, and not the actual violence-taking place. Bodies litter the streets; wide landscapes shots show the smoke billowing from buildings and echoey gunfire fires in the distance. Kudos to cinematographer Leo Hinstin for these almost-apocalyptic style scenes. Another scene that springs to mind is once Owen Wilson has successfully escaped the first major skirmish in the city. As he stands in the lift going up to his hotel room, the camera just lingers on his face for a good ten to twenty seconds, as we hear muffled screams and gunshots.
The film does have its problems. A few lines by Pierce Brosnan about spending a lot of time in strip clubs and brothels feels really out of touch and a little bit creepy, but these are soon swept away, not allowing the film to dwell on them. Also the film loves to go into slow-motion at the very start of the action scenes, but cutting back to reality with an explosion or gunfire. It get’s a bit annoying after the first couple of times. Another one for me is that the film loses some of it’s flair around the two-thirds mark, with the last third feeling a little boring as it was basically the same as most of the first half. The film does pick up in the last ten minutes with a fantastic turn around but when the final scene rolls around the film falls flat again with a lacklusture final scene. But really, the main problem that every other critic had with the film was that it was racist.
Sure, the film does a heck of a job at not telling us what country the film is set in, only that it has a border with Vietnam. The film also does portray most of the revolutionaries as sadistic killers who attempt to rape and torture women who get in their way. But some dialogue nearly the middle of the film between Owen Wilson and Pierce Brosnan paints a different picture. Brosnan remarks that the government that his character works for bully smaller countries into submission. There is even a bit where Brosnan starts to moralise the villains saying, “They’re just like you, they want to protect their children and let them have a future away from this violence.” It’s a film that tries to show the two opposing sides, but each viewer will have a differing opinion on whether the film is racist or not.
In conclusion, No Escape is a taut, blood pumping chase/thriller, with several moments that had my heart in my mouth. If you like the look of the trailer then I recommend that you go see it.
Score: 7/10 Not award winning or ground-breaking, but a competent pulse-pounding ride.