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Movie Review: 'No Escape'

The surprisingly good No Escape more than holds its own against the driftwood of August films.

Review by Matt Cummings

August films are a lot like the game of kickball we all played as kids. The best (June and July films) get picked first, while the poor fat ones (August) get reluctantly chosen and for good reason. Simply put, August has seen more than its fair share of bombs and utter disappointments (see Vacation, Fantastic Four); luckily, the family survival thriller No Escape is not one of them. It's easily the most refreshing, surprising, and intense films of the summer, even though its miscast lead is totally out of his league.

When Engineer Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) is forced to take a job with an American corporation in an unnamed South Asian country, he relocates his young children Beeze (Calire Geare) and Lucy (Sterling Jerins), along with his wife Annie (Lake Bell). Just as they arrive, the prime minister is assassinated, instigating a violent coup. Masked revolutionaries begin to target Americans, whom they believe have bankrupted their country and stolen its precious water supply. This places Jack's family in the crosshairs of a tightening noose of violence that neither he nor Annie can defeat. But with the help of the friendly British party guy Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), they make their way to the Vietnam border, hoping to find sanctuary from the spiraling chaos. The result will see the Dwyers tested to their physical and emotional limits, as they're forced to witness the grim reality of life outside their once perfect lives.

No Escape is one of the most brutal and savage films you'll see this year, perpetuated by a level of real and unnerving violence by a faceless people and for all the wrong reasons. Whether you think these people deserve to axe Americans and other innocents in front of children will ultimately depend on whether you buy the universe imagined by Director/Writer John Erick Dowdle. He makes every effort to rope you inby blaming the Americans, setting these masked people against their own, and dehumanizing nearly every character to some degree. Credit Dowdle with getting everything possible out of Wilson, whose surfer dude image has kept him from landing quality roles outside of comedy. Here, Wilson is consistently outpaced by the terrific Bell and Brosnan, both of whom benefit from Dowdle's strong hand. In contrast, he's barely keep Wilson from falling asleep at the wheel. Put a Ben Affleck or Jeremy Renner in his place, and we're talking an October release and a possible Oscar nomination.

I'm not kidding. No Escape is the perfect example of how one miscasting can affect an entire film. Dowdle and brother Drew craft a script that's edgy and uncompromising but misses entirely the need for a strong lead in the middle of such mayhem. Some of the situations that the Dwyers find themselves would have ended most families, including one from the trailers that will either instantly make you want to see the rest of it, or bemoan its resemblance to Liam Neeson's Taken. And yet despite these leaps of logic (no pun) the film manages to succeed. Where another Dowdle film like the found-footage malaise of As Above So Below failed miserably because of its cast, No Escape fares far better for the same reason.

Composer Marco Beltrami fashions just enough music to keep things going, but Dowdle uses the power of silence throughout to near perfection. An early scene in the hotel features Bell barricading the door, listening frantically for Jack to return while her daughter looks on in shock. It totally works, as we hear neighbors being unceremoniously hacked to bits. Dowdle also refuses to make the Dwyers some collection of superheroes, trapped behind mini-vans and First World Problems. Depending on how you look at it, No Escape could be viewed as either overwhelming proof of the steps parents will take to protect their children, or a slam against corporate America and greedy capitalist governments. Some might find the faceless hordes that descend on the Dwyers along with American interests conspiring to bankrupt a country to be examples of racist sentiments, but I just don't see it. Events like these don't have to take place in real countries, nor do its imagined parallels to world events need to be correct in order for the movie to be effective. Any critic who slams their fist down in complaint of these aspects just doesn't get the point.

The real villain here lies in No Esacape's marketing: is this a Brosnan/Wilson prison escape thriller, or a powerful message about a family trying to escape the madness of a coup? The ad campaign hasn't helped in the least. Such extremes tend to (correctly) confuse consumers, with a little gem like this hoping for strong word of mouth to make back its meager budget. But don't make the mistake some did in our test audience, who brought their children with them. No Escape is not a film for them, its violence and tension meant only for older eyes. But for parents, it's an experience made for the big screen and one you should tell your friends to see. Give all the credit to Bell, Brosnan, and Dowdle but you'll wonder how Wilson ever got the call.

No Escape is rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, and for language and has a runtime of 103 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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