“No Escape” is set in an anonymous South East Asia country bordering Vietnam facing a violent civil war, with the uprising triggered by perceived foreign imperialist intervention. The film was shot in Thailand but looks and feels like Cambodia. Having had the fortune to spend time in Cambodia and be immersed in its troubling history, this feels well positioned: the economic premise at the heart of the film – that governments invest in loss-leading foreign-aid, in this case water treatment, to ‘buy’ future strings of the leadership – is controversial but has the ring of truth about it. Countries like Cambodia have been used as political footballs by the Super Powers for many years, and are pressure-cookers of injustice and discontent.
Owen Wilson and Lake Bell play Jack and Annie Dwyer, parents relocating – reluctantly – to the country as ex-pats to follow Jack’s work as a water treatment engineer for a US corporate. Pretty brave, as they have their two young children Lucy and Beeze in tow. With immaculate timing they fly in on the eve of the uprising and their life turns into a terrifying game of hide and seek as the armed rebels pursue then with one intent: murder with a side-order of rape.
They are aided and abetted by a long-term ex-pat Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) who spends most of his free-time in bars and brothels but is a handy person to know. The film’s title sums up the action perfectly: in a world without law, order or reason, and as scuppered as four chickens in a fox farm, how will the family survive? Or indeed will they all survive?
The bottom line is that this film is tense. Very tense. On the ‘tenseness scale’, we go right through ‘clenching the armrest’ right up to ‘hands in the hair’ tense at times, and there is little relief from after the action really kicks off. As a result, this is quite an exhausting watch.
The casting is also fascinating. Owen Wilson, better known for fluffier stuff like “Wedding Crashers”, didn’t feel to me like the natural choice for this lead, but he is really excellent. And Lake Bell, best known for the kooky and underrated ‘voiceover’ film “In a World”, also excels as the traumatised wife and mother. Together with some highly credible performances by the kids (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) the ensemble really makes you care for the family unit, which adds massively to the tension.
Also in his best role for years Pierce Brosnan has great fun as the animated larger-than-life Hammond, although those of a sensitive musical disposition should be aware that he does sing again in karaoke mode: and if this were possible, it’s even more toe-curlingly awful than “SOS” (albeit intentionally so). The one criticism would be Brosnan’s weird accent which at first I took to be South African, but it later emerges that he is supposed to be British. If so, it’s no UK regional accent that I recognise.
We are into September now – a difficult period for cinema, where the summer blockbusters give way to those films the studios deem not quite good enough for the ‘Oscar period’. But, whilst having the feeling of a tight and relatively low-budget flick, here is an action film worthy of your attention. It is a film that tells a simple story very well, choosing to cut away from the more gruesome acts (it is a ‘15’ certificate in the UK) to focus on the players’ reactions and leaving more to the imagination. For this, the director – John Erick Dowdle (who also wrote the piece) – is to be congratulated. I was rather sniffy about his last film (“As Above, So Below”) – “No Escape” is a vast improvement.
In summary, taut, tense and worthy of your movie dollar. Note though that for those adversely affected by films about children in peril and/or about serious sexual assault, this might be one for you to miss.
Fad Rating: FFFF.