Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 55 min.
Our Advisories (1-10): Violence 5; Language 6; Sex/Nudity 0
Star rating (1-5): 3
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.
I went into director Mikael Hafstrom’s adrenalin-pumping thriller expecting little more than escape, and was rewarded by two hours of non-stop excitement. The two stars work well together, with Sylvester Stallone as prison-escape expert Ray Breslin (he literally “wrote the book” in this tale) who makes a good living testing “escape proof” prisons around the country. Against the wishes of his girl friend Abigail (Amy Ryan), at a meeting with his boss Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio) and CIA agent Jessica Miller (Caitriona Balfe), he agrees to test a CIA prison. It was built, using the principles from his book, for prisoners for whom there is not enough evidence to convict in a court, yet deemed too dangerous to be allowed to let go free. At the beginning of the film, before we know that for sure that he is a good guy, he is in a federal prison, studying the routines of the guard and carefully scrutinizing every detail of the structure until at last he figures out a way of escaping—improbable, but clever in such a film as this.
Betrayed by an unknown person, the now imprisoned Ray finds his contact with his associates outside cut off, and he falls under the control of a fiendish warden who relishes his power, Warden Hobbes, played with relish by Jim Caviezel (whom some of you might remember played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s bloody film The Passion of the Christ). We are a half hour into the film before Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up as prisoner Emil Rottmeyer, a German anarchist who befriends Ray on his first day in prison when some toughs threaten to beat up on him. This new prison is more formidable than any other Ray has seen, the guards following random schedules in their work hours and breaks, and each prisoner housed in a tiny round cell with glass walls and always watched directly by mask-wearing guards and cameras.
Has Ray met his match? The film’s tag line is “No one Breaks Out Alone,” and this film bares this out, with Sam Neil lending a little gravitas to this male adventure fantasy as Dr. Kyrie, the prison doctor who needs just a little reminding by Ray of his dedication to the Hippocratic Oath to lend aid to the pair. There is also a nice touch in that from the group of Muslim prisoners our pair elicits a comrade in the person of Javed, well played by US-Pakistani actor Faran Tahir. He turns out to be one of the most admirable of the band of plotters. The plot becomes very complicated, with the location of the prison a surprise, and the secret dealings of Emil equally surprising.
As in most action films, a person of faith has to suspend believe in love and nonviolence, the same as in so many cartoonish movies, and this is certainly the case here. It is the ethics of an Old Testament God of Vengeance that these men live and die by—and kill, the deaths of none of the dozens of guards shot down mattering any more than those images of opponents mowed down in a video game. We don’t even see the faces of most of the guards due to their black facemasks, so killing them has no impact on our heroes. Very different from what we see in Captain Phillips, but then Escape Plan is for those who prefer to escape themselves than face reality. This is not to condemn it—for we all need to escape our routine at times, and it is great to see two old stalwarts of the Tough Guy genre together for the first time. Schwarzenegger contributes some of his stoic humor to the events, and Stallone’s sorrowful eyes again suggest the pain and endurance that any character he plays must endure. The film promises no more than a thrilling time, and it delivers on it.
The full review with a set of questions for reflection or discussion appears in the November issue of Visual Parables, which will be available late in October.