There’s an intriguing twist to this puzzling escape-from-prison drama, winner of the 2008 British Independent Film Award for Best Production and the BAFTA Scotland Award for Best Actor for Brian Cox.
Frank Perry (Cox) is a lifer, sentenced to live behind bars until he dies. But when he receives a letter informing him that his only daughter – whom he hasn’t seen since she was six – is critically ill following a drug overdose, he’s determined to try to help her. That means an escape from the institution he’s regarded as home for many years, but he knows he can’t do it alone.
So he masterminds an intricate getaway plot, involving squeezing through air shafts, and surreptitiously enlists a handful of cellblock inmates: Lenny (Joseph Fiennes), Lacey (Dominic Cooper), Brodie (Liam Cunningham) and Viv (Seu Jorge) – with malevolent Rizza (Damian Lewis), the self-styled prison boss, as their common enemy.
Writer/director Rupert Wyatt, who collaborated on the screenplay with Daniel Hardy, was inspired by a famous 19th century short-story called “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce, which chronicles a hanged man’s near-miraculous escape. And the metaphysical concept is also reminiscent of “Memento” and “The Sixth Sense.”
But it’s Cox’s convincing performance that propels the flashback/flashforward suspense. Many people forget that it was barrel-chested Brian Cox who first brought to the screen one of the most famous prisoners in film history: Hannibal Lector in “Manhunter.”
Composer Benjamin Wallfisch’s naturalistic score stays mostly in the background, eschewing traditional music except for Leonard Cohen’s “The Partisan,” heard during the opening sequence, and Coldplay’s track for the conclusion. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Escapist” is a redemptive 6. “Imagination is what protects us – it’s what keeps us alive,” Frank concludes.