No Escape, 2015.
Directed by John Erick Dowdle.
Starring Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jerins, and Claire Geare.
In Southeast Asia an American family get caught amidst a violent political uprising. Amongst the upheaval and unrest Jack (Owen Wilson) and Annie (Lake Bell) Dwyer spend forty-eight hours on the run. As protests turn to bloodshed and embassies burn their options begin to run out…
This could be the smartest piece of casting all year. By using proven character actors, a convincing female lead and children who can act John Eric and Drew Dowdle have done two things. Not only does No Escape feel like a seriously grounded thriller similar to Oliver Stone’s ‘Salvador’. It also manages to hit believable character beats without feeling contrived. Meaning that after a honeymoon period of less than fifteen minutes No Escape hits the ground running. Serving up palpable tension which only increases as riots spill onto the streets and things really kick off.
Through the use of handheld cameras and close quarters framing there is an inherent sense of claustrophobia which is invasive. A feeling which never lets up, but instead slowly increases to a point where we drift into Deer Hunter territory. By never getting caught up in the reasons behind this uprising, John Eric and Drew Dowdle have crafted an old school thriller akin to The Killing Fields. Allowing Owen Wilson, who is without doubt the biggest surprise here, to play an ‘everyman’ action hero without losing his charm or appeal.
Wilson sketches Jack Dwyer as a family man and provider, exhibiting steely determination and savage survival instincts under pressure. There is no point he looks less than comfortable in this role, drawing upon a reserve of kickass nobody knew existed. This should quite rightly open more doors into the realm of action hero family man, if such a sub-genre exists. Elsewhere Lake Bell continues her ascendance into the arena of A-lister with ease.
Drew Dowdle has given Bell more to work with here, as Annie Dwyer is far from the token female in peril which many hacks might churn out. Resourceful and equal in many ways to her husband, Bell keeps pace with their situation without things feeling forced. Others have said No Escape belongs to Bell and I can see their argument, but performance relies as much on the writing as any physical interpretation on-screen. But ultimately Lake Bell deserves at least top billing alongside Wilson and Brosnan here, as this really is an ensemble piece. Which brings me nicely on to the wild card. Who not only pistol whips his way through this film with a smile but provides comic relief. And yes I did say comic relief.
In creating Hammond he has added another string to his bow. Coming across like a working class huckster over for the Asian nightlife and sexually exotic shenanigans. Brosnan is an anomaly for a majority of this film. Part South London secret agent mixed with the moral ambiguities of an East end mobster on sabbatical. He playfully subverts his double o seven days, defining a character with economy and style. If Wilson and Bell are the King and Queen here, then Brosnan is that final ace which turns from good into potentially great.
By changing it up, brothers John Eric and Drew Dowdle have given us something tried and tested yet fresh and exciting. After their manipulation of horror conventions in As Above, So Below, No Escape takes the best elements of classic thrillers and turns in something unique. In a year which sees the return of Star Wars, No Escape gives us hope for cinema beyond the comic book franchise. I am not one for hyperbole but this is what film making should be about.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★