Our post-modern age makes it easy (indeed, possibly too easy) to find takes or spins or twists on traditional stories or genre films; what's often harder is finding well-executed examples of those genres in the first place. (Put more bluntly, we've all seen plenty of recent ironic crime films or teen comedies -- but how few of those actually work as crime films or teen comedies?) The British film The Escapist, which made its North American debut at Sundance this year, not only works as a brilliant, twisting existential expansion of the traditional prison break film; it also works as a crackerjack example of the traditional prison break film. Brian Cox stars as Frank, a convict serving a life sentence; after hearing of his daughter's second overdose, he determines that he has to get out, he has to see her: "I have to make things right."
As played by Cox, Frank's hard to understand, but easy to like -- and the other way around, too. Cox is one of our best actors -- he's great in both high art and high trash, and The Escapist offers him a chance to work both ends of that divide. We watch, riveted, as Frank tries to break through the metaphorical wall around his feelings; we watch, riveted, as Frank tries to break through the literal walls keeping him from the outside. Frank's demeanor is pure prison -- a hot-forged alloy of defiance and resignation tempered by time -- but he's also more than just that facade.