Escape From New York (R)

SciFi/Fantasy 99 min. July 10, 1981
By Michael Nordine
John Carpenter's workmanlike approach and nonpareil intuition for genre conventions make his films a welcome tonic, and Escape from New York is especially refreshing in this current season of would-be blockbusters clambering over one another to destroy whatever metropolis stands in their way. Carpenter-- a bona fide auteur whose work is so populist and engaging some critics mistakenly think they need to invent new terms to describe him--envisions a city destroyed from within by systemic rot and corruption rather than one attacked by outside forces, with the simple image of a still-standing World Trade Center looming over the proceedings more retroactively symbolic than any recent attempt to not-so-subtly bring the towers to mind. Made in the middle of its director's decade-long hot streak, Escape throws Kurt Russell's eyepatch-wearing antihero, Snake Plissken, on a suicide mission through the urban prison of the then-future of 1997. Watch for the way Russell scowls his way through increasingly outlandish setpieces (including a fight to the death with a man twice his size named Slag) that, thanks to Russell's charisma and Carpenter's bare-bones staging, always remain consistent with the film's internal logic. Snake is a latter-day cowboy, a gruff survivalist whose laconic musings and devil-may-care attitude may endear him even to viewers exhausted by the all-action, all-the-time summer movies that Escape helped inspire. As he’s told prior to his mission, "There are no guards inside the prison, only prisoners and the world they have made." In other words, the ultimate proving ground for someone like him.
John Carpenter Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes John Carpenter, Nick Castle


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