Rupert Wyatt's directorial debut has decidedly mixed results in its attempt to break out of the genre conventions of the prison drama that were established in films as far ranging as The Great Escape, The Shawshank Redemption and Scum. In a British prison, the lifer Frank (Brian Cox) receives a letter from his wife saying that his wayward daughter is on the verge of death. Cue much remorse from Frank that imbues the tale with a melancholic and foreboding tone. The bad news inspires the prisoner to organise a jailbreak with a hand-picked motley crew (Joseph Fiennes, Liam Cunningham, Seu Jorge and Dominic Cooper), who each have a special skill that will help contribute to the escape. Unfortunately, the depiction of prison life is predictable and the inmates are extremely dull stereotypes. We have the usual bunch of movie clichés: inmates with tribal allegiances; the hard nut who runs the prison (here played by Damian Lewis); the overbearing fear of being attacked; and, naturally, an uncanny ability to come up with bewildering escape plans. But The Escapist has a trick up its sleeve, the to-and-fro storytelling structure in which the action continues to jump between the execution of the jailbreak and the planning of the event. Although the flashback structure is at times overplayed, it's cleverly worked to ensure that there is a surprising sting in the tale. Nonetheless, the twist isn't quite as good as the filmmakers would like us to think it is.
Decidedly mixed results in its attempt to break out of the prison drama genre.