Escape Plan

Certificate: 15
Running time: 115 mins
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Neill
Genre: Action, Thriller
Country: USA

In the 1980s the pairing of Sly and Arnie was the action movie summit.  In the 1990s it was oh so almost with the Mike Werb & Michael Colleary scripted Face/Off but the two titans couldn’t come to agreement on several issues and the movie became a post Pulp Fiction vehicle for John Travolta.  Jump forward almost twenty years…yeah really…and the pairing of Stallone & Schwarzenegger on screen is something of an annual event.  With two outings under their belts together in the Stallone masterplanned all action Expendables franchise it might not feel like such a great event to have these two men driving a narrative side-by-side though it is.  But is it closer to Heat or Righteous Kill?

Ray Breslin (Stallone) has been in and out of prison for over a decade and making good money on it.  As a special advisor to the Federal Government he tests the strengths of Super Max institutions and has walked away from every single one of them.  Having broken out of his fourteenth prison with a little help from Abigail (Amy Ryan) and Hush (50 Cent) he’s recruited to test a new prison that’s “off the grid”.  A prison that doesn’t exist designed to hold prisoners that the free world can’t afford to risk the possibility of having to release.  Agreeing to his biggest pay day Ray finds himself inside a unique jail but when it transpires that he’s inside for good this time can the master escapologist spring the lock of the prison designed based on his own teachings?

Both men will probably be the first to admit that a large percentage of their oeuvre contains rather two dimensional characters, for the most part the history of their protagonists are unimportant when confronted with terrorists, international bad guys and kidnapped childer and Escape Plan is no exception.  This is not necessarily a criticism of the film.  If you’re watching Escape Plan awaiting a Shawshank style of character narrative one must ask how many of these muscle men’s movies have you actually watched?  For the most part the narrative is driven by the immediate predicaments and what little exposition they manage to pin to the characters is actually distracting and unnecessary.  The script is a lot smarter than you’d give it credit.  Stallone, being a large hulking monosyllabic performer, is often short changed and perceived as unintelligent but the real Sly couldn’t be further from the truth.  This is a man who not only engineered his own career from day one (agreeing to sell Rocky to Paramount as long as they cast him in the lead) but when times were tough re-engineered his comeback (Rocky Balboa, Rambo, The Expendables) and in Escape Plan he’s given a chance to showcase the strength of his grey matter alongside his biceps.  The prison itself is a phenomenological marvel and the reworking of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon is something that will be overlooked by most but for those that dig a little social theory it will totally blow your mind.  Further study and discussion on the prison is needed, and hopefully posted on KiV shortly.

Stallone (as previously mentioned) gives a good performance.  He’s had a lot of work done and though he was never the most expressive of actors from the neck up you can’t help but wonder at what point does his one expression become a distraction to the audience?  Schwarzenegger (as Emil Rottmayer) is fantastic.  It’s been a while since we’ve seen Arnie relax into a role and it seems that he’s taken some of the high profile personal drama and used it to colour his character.  He’s genuinely worth marvelling over as it's one of the more subtly textured performances he’s given in thirty years.  The problem with short changing the characterisation in a screenplay comes when looking at the supporting cast.  Vincent D’Onofrio (Lester Clark) is an incredible actor but he’s a Ferrari in a thirty MPR movie, Sam Neill is the same, Jim Caviezel is sort of interesting and it’s sad that his devout religious beliefs seem to have hampered his career.  They used to say in Hollywood “never be caught in a hotel room with a dead girl or a live boy” I’d add “holding a bible” to that.  Faran Tahir (as Javed) gives the most interesting supporting performances.  This is a prison that does not exist, he is a practising Muslim inside this institution so it’s not a massive leap to infer that he’s a terrorist but you find yourself cheering for him.  It’s refreshing, it’s incredibly pleasing and his reasons for incarceration are not mentioned, because they’re not important.  This is an illegal prison and two wrongs don’t make a right.

Hafstrom’s eye does a great job of opening up what could be quite a claustrophobic mise-en-scene were it’s necessary and closing it off on other occasions with great effect.  He blends the in-camera effects with CGI rather well, the x-ray camera to showcase the infrastructure of the prison is a nice touch but he throws in one too many extreme zoom outs which tear you away from the fabric of the movie momentarily.  These are small complaints as he knows how to block out an action sequence, not to mention an action sequence starring the two men who are the dictionary definitions of action hero.

The fact that Escape Plan underperformed at the box office might have something to do with the fact that seeing Stallone and Schwarzenegger on screen together is no longer the thing of dreams, it might have something to do with the (wrong) notion that cinema has moved on from these men or that Escape Plan is a mesh of conflicting ideologies.  It’s an action movie for the thinking free yet it contains a concept and a prison that could sit in comfortably alongside a PhD thesis.  It’s neither actor’s best movie and the last few points of the narrative are rushed but it is a smart, unique actioner that keeps ninety percent of your buttocks off the edge of your seat for a solid two hours.


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