A taut thriller that ends on a note of unexpected grace, the British prison drama The Escapist marks the impressive feature debut for director/co-writer Rupert Wyatt. As tightly scripted as the meticulous escape plan hatched by lifer Frank Perry (Brian Cox), the film jumps back and forth between the breakout and the days that proceed it, when we get to know Frank and his four accomplices. Fans of HBO’s harrowing prison drama Oz will recognize the milieu, a place where eye contact and terse nods are the currency of communication and survival is calculated in 24-hour cycles. Fleeing through London’s sewers and the tunnels of the Underground (including a ghostly, long-abandoned station, littered with dusty World War II gas masks), the men exchange barely a word. Dialogue is kept to a minimum throughout the film (just as well, given the impenetrability of the English and Irish accents), but little exposition is required in a genre picture that can rely on the skillful use of familiar tropes to carry the plot forward. With his craggy face and melancholy eyes, Cox brings a lived-in world-weariness to Frank. Without lapsing into sentimentality, the actor suggests a deeply buried humanity and vulnerability that even Frank had forgotten he had.
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