NO ESCAPE (2015)
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Cast: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare, Pierce Brosnan, Sahajak Boonthanakit
MPAA Rating: (for strong violence including a sexual assault, and for language)
Running Time: 1:43
Release Date: 8/26/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 25, 2015
If the scene in which the only female character of note is almost raped by a group of rebels hadn't already left an acidic taste, then surely the scene in which a little girl is forced to choose between shooting her own father or being shot herself would have done so. The notes I take while watching movies are usually illegible chicken scratches, but there are three words in my notes for No Escape that I made certain were as clear as day once that latter scene unfolded. Let's just say that it would be impolite to print the first word, which rhymes with a certain water fowl, and that the following words direct that specific curse at the movie itself.
It might seem unfair to criticize a movie that attempts to portray the worst of humanity for imagining situations in which the worst of humanity displays itself. "Imagining," though, is the key word, because fraternal screenwriters John Erick Dowdle (who also directed the movie) and Drew Dowdle have, indeed, invented this scenario for the sole purpose of wallowing in violent misery to provide a few cheap thrills—really, really cheap ones, too.
The story takes place in an unnamed city in an unidentified country in Southeast Asia, although, late in the movie, we do learn that this country is directly upriver from Vietnam. That gives us two possibilities, but it really doesn't matter. Whatever country is depicted here is quickly replaced by a version of Hell incarnate, filled with masked political revolutionaries who are this place's version of demons.
Around the same time that we learn this country is next to Vietnam, a character from a Western intelligence agency informs our hero that these rebels, who seem to be merciless hell-spawn, are really just desperate people trying to provide for their families. It's really Western corporations, which "help" with the expansion of infrastructures in developing nations and then simply overtake them when the countries can't pay the bills, that are to blame here. That kind of simplistic moral disapproval seems more than a little disingenuous in a movie that also wants those "desperate" men to come across as ruthless killers in every other scene.
Here, then, is a movie that not only is exploitative but also lacks the courage to be specific in its exploitation. No country, public figures, specific players, or even political ideologies are named. We can't even take away some sociopolitical message here. It's just a group of bad guys hunting down a group of good guys, and almost all the good guys, coincidentally, are white Westerners.
The chief goodie is Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), an engineer who has taken a job with a big corporation to help bring clean water to this anonymous nation. His wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) are joining him. Around the time that the plane carrying the Dwyers lands, the country's prime minister is assassinated, and the rebels begin to spread through the city, executing any foreigner they encounter.
The plot is one lengthy chase through the streets, a hotel, over rooftops, and back to the streets again. The Dwyers run, hide, avoid gunfire, leap (or, in the movie's most unintentionally funny scene, are tossed) across buildings, shimmy down ledges, and otherwise avoid being killed. Along the way, the family is aided by Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), an agent with the "British CIA" or "something like that," who turns up on expedient whims as if he has been delivered upon a chariot provided by the gods.
It works for a little bit (The scenes within the hotel are the movie's most effective), but then it becomes repetitive. Then it becomes absurd, before settling into the realms of distasteful and downright nasty. Dowdle, the directing brother, makes sure we know that some daring feat or imminent threat is underway by using—and then quickly overusing—slow motion, lest we might not comprehend that a group of machete-wielding rebels, who chant that there's no surrender because they intend to kill everyone, is a danger.
Dozens and then hundreds of people are slaughtered in the background in gruesome ways. They're props, really, for the Dwyers' ordeals. They mean nothing to this movie beyond that purpose. Again, it's hypocritical for a movie to decry the exploitation of a nation when the movie itself exploits an entire nation's worth of people as bloodthirsty murderers or bloody pieces of set decoration. Hypocrisy might be the least objectionable transgression performed by No Escape.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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