The Escapist (DVD)

As the title suggests, The Escapist — gritty, tense, beautifully performed — is a prison saga. But, around the conventional heart of the story, writer/director Rupert Wyatt has woven something surprisingly original.

The Escapist

Frank Perry (Cox) is a lifer and he's prepared to do his time. He did wrong, he pays, that's the way the system works. However, when he learns that his estranged daughter is ill, he vows to see her at whatever cost. The resulting prison break — involving fellow inmates Lenny (the edgy Fiennes), Brodie (the ever-reliable Liam Cunningham), Viv (The Life Aquatic's Jorge) and Lacey (up-and-comer Cooper) — is a tense, sweaty affair with an unusual twist.

This is ambitious stuff from newcomer Wyatt and he marks himself out as a name to watch. Hell, you don't assemble a cast like the above — plus Damian Lewis and Steven Mackintosh as the prison's unlikely but enormously menacing king pins — if you haven't got a decent script. Cox is, of course, magnificent, a massive, craggy presence to carry the film's emotional centre. It's so good to see him play a lead for once and also good to see him play someone who, while flawed, is also likeable.It probably also goes withouts saying that Fiennes, Cunningham et al are first rate.

The Escapist is not perfect by any means (surely there's more to prison movies than shower scenes and drugs?) but there's more to the tale that meets the eye and Wyatt mostly keeps all the elements, including the more surreal moments, under control. A satisfying and different film.

EXTRAS *** A making-of featurette, a behind-the-scenes featurette, a storyboard comparison, an audio commentary with writer/director Rupert Wyatt and star Dominic Cooper, and the theatrical trailer.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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