The Escapist stars Brian Cox in the lead role of Frank Perry, a convict serving a life sentence in a London prison. Frank keeps his head down and doesn’t cause any trouble. However, he unexpectedly receives the first letter for a very long time, informing him that his daughter is near death after suffering a drug overdose. This bad news makes him realise he needs to see his daughter again to make peace with her, so he decides to break out and devises a plan of escape.
Frank brings a number of the other inmates in on his plan. First he goes to Brodie (Liam Cunningham, who is brilliant as usual) who seems to be his closest friend in prison. Brodie’s knowledge of the underground tunnels comes in handy when planning their escape route. Edgy boxer and former thief Lenny Drake (Joseph Fiennes), new boy Lacey (Dominic Cooper) and Batista (Seu Jorge), who concocts and deals drugs in the prison, are also brought on-board.
Unfortunately, another convict called Tony (Steven Mackintosh) discovers what they are up to and threatens to tell his brother, the menacing Rizza (Damian Lewis), who rules the prison while the guards look the other way. The group need to find a way to keep Tony quiet if they want to make it out to freedom.
Brian Cox is solid and sympathetic as The Escapist’s emotional core and his fellow inmates are played by a talented supporting cast. The action inside the claustrophobic London prison switches between the events before and during the breakout. The scenes showing the escape set up questions for the viewer to ponder, which are answered throughout the course of the film in the interspersed flashbacks. The rush of the breakout mixes well with the anxious planning stages. The film uses a very effective past-and-present structure and good editing, and it adds a great final plot twist. Benjamin Wallfisch’s excellent score helps to heighten the moments of tension with its intensity and sense of urgency.
The Escapist was directed by Rupert Wyatt, a British talent who followed this debut feature with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Wyatt also co-wrote the film with Daniel Hardy and has said that the structure of the film’s plot was inspired by a well-known short story written in the 19th century: American author Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Frank Perry is shown reading this story and he shows it to Rizza near the end of the film. It is set during the American Civil War and also features an irregular time sequence and a twist ending.
The Escapist is a thrilling and clever prison drama with an innovative plot structure. Add to that a range of interesting characters, an impressive cast and engaging music, and you have a refreshingly enjoyable escape film.