By: Shannon Page
John Erick Dowdle’s (As Above, So Below; Quarantine) action/thriller No Escape is about an American businessman named Jack (Owen Wilson) and his wife (Lake Bell) who, along with their two young daughters, are caught in the middle of a violent coup in an unnamed Southeast Asian country. The film is surprisingly well-constructed and nuanced – all things considered.
The script, which was co-written by Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle, manages to be more self-aware of the political nuances of its setting than audiences might expect from a film that’s main purpose is keeping viewers on the edge of their seats rather than exploring ethical questions about foreign aid and (mostly) white expatriate communities in what the World Bank refers to as “developing” countries.
The movie also manages to solidly develop the setting and characters while being an effective and intense thriller. It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that Owen Wilson is more convincing as a charming and funny family man than as an action hero, but part of the success of the film is that the audience is never asked to believe otherwise. Wilson’s character never has any over-the-top-Hollywood-badass moments, and the amazing feats of survival that he does perform come from a desire to protect his family. There are even moments when we see him falter and struggle to do what needs to be done. This is part of what makes many scenes in No Escape truly terrifying – the plausibility of the characters reactions to the situations themselves. Because the political upheaval that drives the plot of the film is just that, plausible. Perhaps not likely, but certainly not beyond the realm of imagination.
It would be an injustice not to mention Pierce Brosnan’s role as a hardened government operative. Brosnan’s character provides the film with its most typically heroic moments and tough-guy lines, which is a much needed relief from Wilson’s realism and intensity.
Lake Bell as Jack’s wife Annie, acts as one of the only weak points in an otherwise great film. Bell’s acting is excellent and she does the best that she possibly can with what is ultimately a disappointing character. Women in films don’t always have to be strong and capable, but her character’s inability to deal with the stress of being in an unfamiliar setting quickly crosses the line from understandable to annoying. When her inevitable moment of strength does come, it is undeniably satisfying, but the effect would have no doubt been ten-fold if she were even a fraction more sympathetic or if the writers had bothered to develop her as a person beyond her gender-specific roles of wife and mother.
Composer Marco Beltrami’s score is similarly lacklustre. At times, his music really does add to the film’s intensity, but it is more often than not an unwelcome distraction. It might seem like a small criticism, but a musical score can make or break a film, and there are times when no music at all is more effective at conveying feeling and emotion than sound. No Escape, despite my strong recommendation, is full of lost auditory opportunities when less would have probably been more.
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