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Ingenious revenge thriller
on 12 December 2007
The Escapist is one of those films that has little going for it at first sight: a constantly underachieving director and a bland leading man in yet another of that seemingly endless post-Lock, Stock stream of British crime movies. That it didn't even get a theatrical release but went straight to cable TV and DVD lowers expectations even further. Johnny Lee Miller, the blandest of the Trainspotting cast, initially looks like a bad choice for leading man, his hopeless delivery of the opening voice-over monologue boding particularly ill. The awkward stylistic devices in first ten minutes as his nice middle class guy loses his pregnant wife to Andy Serkis' escaped psychopath don't do the film many favors either, although it does help get the exposition quickly out of the way. From then on it turns into a particularly ingenious revenge thriller, with Miller's initial blandness working in his favor as he becomes increasingly convincingly unpleasant.
Rather than go the Charles Bronson/Jodie Foster route and roam the streets with a gun in search of catharsis, Miller decides instead to go right to the heart of the problem and get sent to prison, where he soon finds himself on "The Magic Roundabout" as his constant escape attempts see his 7-day sentence grow into two years as he works his way up from minimum security to the vividly realized Hellish maximum security island prison where Serkis is serving a 20-year sentence. Naturally, things don't go according to plan...
There's enough novelty in the premise and plot twists to drive the film, with Gillies McKinnon keeping things at a lean 100 minutes and drawing out an excellent supporting performance from Gary Lewis as the hardened con who befriends but never fully trust Miller. Andy Serkis is channelling Keith Allen in a particularly bad mood and doing it with élan, though Jodhi May really doesn't get much to do as his sister-in-law but act as his conscience and another potential victim in a couple of scenes. It's not a world-beater by any means, just a pleasingly efficient little thriller that deserved more attention than it got and is well worth a look if it crosses your path. Just bear with it past those awkward opening scenes.
No extras on the DVD but a decent widescreen transfer.