Released July 16, 2009
The characters in The Escapist are damaged goods: being in prison does that to you. Brian Cox plays Frank, a man in resigned acceptance of his crime after having served a dozen years of a life sentence. He silently observes the internal workings of the prison that revolves around its head-honcho, Rizza (Damian Lewis), who speaks in hushed Irish tones, and his psychopathic brother, Tony (Steven Mackintosh), who speaks gibberish and wields sharp objects.
When a new cellmate arrives, Lacey (Dominic Cooper), who reminds Frank of his younger self, and with the news of his estranged daughter falling ill, he plans an escape with a group of sympathetic inmates, including a scruffy Joseph Fiennes as Lenny.
Well shot and well acted, the film tries hard to be distinctive through a non-linear narrative and sparse dialogue. The latter is supposed to make it arty and sophisticated, when really it just makes it pretentious and overdone.
There’s a strong feeling of physical and emotional claustrophobia but, despite Brian Cox’s commanding presence, we are not engaged with the characters. We’re left to observe the details of the escape which, aside from a clever but improbable exploitation of the strength of diamonds, are unremarkable and consist mostly of running through endless tunnels and sewers.
The Escapist’s claim for originality comes in the final act, with a revelation that almost convinces us that the prior coldness was justified. It’s an intriguing idea that finally brings some feeling to the otherwise subdued narrative.
Released July 16, 2009
In Lucky Country Australia is not so much mythologised as a frontier, like the American West, but more a prison – we were, after all, a colony teaming with criminals, outcasts and gold diggers. Kriv Stenders’ ironically-titled sparse psychological thriller creates an image of a country filled with desperate people fighting for survival in an inhospitable land. It’s the antithesis of Baz Luhrmann’s Hollywood fantasy version of Oz.
It’s 1902 and Nat (Aden Young) clings to the dream of maintaining a self-sufficient farm in the outback with his two children, Tom and Sarah (Toby Wallace and Hanna Mangan-Lawrence). Those aspirations, which are becoming more distant as they struggle for food and money, are given a boost by the arrival of three ex-soldiers: “strangers may be angels in disguise” says Nat. One of them is harbouring secret gold, however, and their real intentions are not so much disguised as in plain view.
As an experience, Lucky Country is not entirely pleasant. Except for the sympathetic children, from whose point of view the story is mostly told, the characters are wretched and without a moral compass. Even their father, who begins with noble intentions, is consumed by the desperate dream for his family that is always out of reach. Minimalist in its production, use of music and direction, the film somehow makes the expanse of the outback feel claustrophobic, like the psyche of its characters. It successfully expresses screenwriter Andy Cox’s idea that the land “fundamentally doesn’t want us here” but it’s overly sincere and not always compelling.