Monkey Reviews

Through the Eyes of A Chimp

Monkey Reviews
April 23, 2010

The Escapist - Free the Monkeys

What is it about prison movies? Personally, I always have a squeamish visceral response to the thought of sitting through two hours of confined inhuman conditions. And of course there’s the brutality and torture and shower-shanking – this is my initial assumption of this genre. Then there’s the other kind of prison movie. I’ve decided to call them the “great escape movies” which most often include a glimpse into depravity but usually transcends the murkiness of the lowest of the lowest human condition.

If you asked anyone what their favourite prison escape movie was there would be a wealth of responses; Shawshank Redemption often being the first pick along with “The Great Escape”, “Bird Man of Alcatraz”, “Escape from Alcatraz”, “Papillion”, and so on. There is something about this kind of prison movie that, despite it’s uncomfortable setting and the fact that suffering has taken on a life-sentence, evokes a sense of hope in something beyond the bars and beyond the emptiness. You hope for and with those who are so desperate to escape the place (internally and externally) that has robbed them of their freedom.

“The Escapist”, from first time director Rupert Wyatt, carries with it an unassuming title but if they could’ve found a way to include the word “Redemption” – it would aptly describe the deeper meaning of this movie. And of course, the way it is with redemption; in life, books and movies, there’s alot of suffering and sacrifice along the way. This movie is no exception.

The story is told using the means of flashbacks and voice-overs; none of these techniques feel cloyed or forced but create the flow that is inviting and keeps you intent on watching. As I reflect back I think that maybe it’s the meandering story-telling that clues us into something symbolic. Life is also a tale of meandering and what it means to reach a destination – life is never without it’s back and forths, dead-ends or wrong turns and often we discover that what seems so haphazard is exactly what the spirit wants to use to bring us home and give us the gift of true freedom.

For those who are familiar with the BBC or British Cinema will recognize many faces, Brian Cox who plays Frank, the central figure, is just one of many great performances. I highly recommend this prison movie despite it’s very real portrayal of the cruelty that occurs behind bars. It just might become one of your favorite “great escape” movies.