So another JDIFF drew to a close on Sunday night, with all the usual anticipation, speculation, rumour, counter-rumour and bluffing regarding the surprise film. Guesses ranged from the wishful thinking (come on, did you really think it would be Indiana Jones?!) to the indie favourites (Grace is Gone, Gone Baby Gone, The Word Gone is Becoming Overused in Film Titles).
In the end? Well, in the end it was certainly a surprise. With the opening credits going to Vertigo Films, along with UK National Lottery Funding and the Irish Film Board, we all knew pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to be Ironman. It was….The Escapist.
The what now?
Exactly. Written and directed by former Hollyoaks scriptwriter Rupert Wyatt, starring Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Damien Lewis and Liam Cunningham, this relatively low-key prison escape drama was a slow-burner.
The film’s focal point is Brian Cox’s character, Frank’s, attempt to escape to visit his daughter, who has become a serious junkie. His determination to see her again before she goes too far is what drives him throughout, and it is a very good performance from Cox.
Drawn into his plan are some of the standard prison movie characters, played with varying degrees of believability. Damien Lewis is always good for a beady eyed, slightly psychotic character, while Liam Cunningham as the down-on-his-luck Irishman was decent but pretty standard. Joseph Fiennes is surprisingly believable as an angry inmate whose sentence has been lengthened after another prisoner informs on him. Less relevant is Seu Jorge, who manages to be both the librarian and drug-producing chemist in the cell block. Young Dominic Cooper, whose vulnerability draws the unwanted attention of another inmate, provides a parallel storyline and is the eventual catalyst for the film’s final act.
The film’s structure is somewhat interesting. Opening with the start of the escape itself, it’s told in partial flash-back. While this does lessen the tension of the earlier (chronologically-speaking) scenes, it does at least allow for an element of surprise towards the end. We don’t want to give too much away though, but the ending may be make or break for some viewers.
Filmed mainly in Dublin this time last year, Kilmainham Gaol was used for its interior, ostensibly a London prison. The whole film has a slightly damp, dank, 70s air to it, with a grainy feel to the picture quality. The music is good, if a little over-powering at times. Some decent performances and an interesting structure make for a film of passing interest.
It was certainly a brave choice by new festival director Gráinne Humphries. The film wasn’t so bad that it felt like a token Irish gesture and kudos for providing a genuine surprise (with most guesses being drawn from the bigger distributors). However, it left many an audience member, including Correct Opinion, a little underwhelmed.
Six out of ten .