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No Escape – Movie Review

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No Escape – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

No Escape is one of those films that is otherwise decently made, but it’s hampered by the unfortunate implications necessary in building the tension. Director/co-writer John Erick Dowdle comes from a horror film background and his approach in directing this thriller is not unlike how he might tackle a zombie flick. However, when the main conflict involves a revolution, it’s hard not to feel uneasy with the film’s one-sided approach to treating the other side. While one does root for the main protagonists to survive the day, a more even-handed screenplay would have helped make the final film a tad less uncomfortable.

A lot of No Escape comprises of a series of action set-pieces as the Dwyer family try to find a new place of safety. Dowdle creates some rather suspenseful moments, elevated by the fact that their children play a main role. The stakes are raised and it’s quickly established that survival is of the utmost importance. That the Dwyers are just a regular family caught up in this situation makes them all the more sympathetic. Even as Jack exhibits a bit of acrobatics and stunts, he’s never turned into a typical action hero. Owen Wilson captures the fear very well as does Lake Bell as his wife. The young actresses playing their children are also believable, even as the film throws a couple of clichés their way (yes, even the dropped stuffed animal shows up here). One sequence where Jack escapes by throwing his wife and children from one roof-top to the next is particularly hard to watch and perfectly highlights the life-or-death dilemma they’re in.

While the film never specifies which East Asian country No Escape takes place in, depicting the revolutionaries as savages with no remorse comes across as incredibly one-sided. Aside from a brief dialogue exchange between Jack and a fellow foreigner played by Pierce Brosnan, the film does not spend a lot of time exploring the other side and their motivations. They come across even worse in scenes where they harass the Dwyer family and are portrayed with no moral compass whatsoever. While rioters and coups can get very violent in real-life, the men depicted here are merely one-dimensional stereotypes. The way they have no scruples towards treatment of children takes the film in a direction it really didn’t need to go.

While many scenes are still tense, they would have been more exciting if the revolutionaries were written with more depth. This also could have led to No Escape better exploring the political climate of such countries. The way the story unfolds is not unlike a horror film, which seems like the wrong approach to take with a film featuring this subject matter. The typical plot elements are there for a zombie film, except with rioters put in place of the undead. That implication only rises the uncomfortable levels higher than needed to be. John Erick Dowdle also makes the odd directorial choice to use slow motion at various points. Rather than building suspense, this instead becomes annoying and distracting especially as this technique is repeated over and over again through the course of the film.

No Escape works on occasion thanks to the tension and dread on-screen, but that eventually gets lost under the political undertones. This is a film that needed a smarter script to properly convey its ideas. In the end, it mostly becomes a film warning against visiting third-world countries. However, one can see why John Erick Dowdle wished to tackle this story and explore the political strife. However, something that looked at both sides equally would have produced a more thought provoking film. Instead we’re given ruthless and amoral raging lunatics on one side and noble good people on the other and that’s not a message you really want to convey.

Stefan Ellison
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The Scene