No Escape

Release: Wednesday, August 26, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: John Erick Dowdle; Drew Dowdle

Directed by: John Erick Dowdle

No Escape shouldn’t work as well as it does and yet, strong performances from an unlikely cast make for a taut thriller that plays to the tune of Taken, becoming an often absurd yet emotionally resonant tale of survival.

Owen Wilson finds inspiration in drama once again as family man Jack Dwyer whose recent job change has moved him, his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (nine-year-old actress Claire Geare) to a nondescript Southeast Asian country. Feeling immediately displaced the family bumps into a friendly man named Hammond (Pierce Brosnan, in the ideal post-James Bond cameo) who helps arrange some transportation for them at the airport.

Jack has joined Cardiff, a conglomerate that distributes clean water to third-world nations. He reassures his older daughter that this job will be more stable since this company is much bigger than his old one. The one thing he doesn’t mention is that all they need now is to overcome some culture shock. And then come to terms with the fact that his very presence is about to put all their lives at risk when the city erupts suddenly in a violent and bloody revolt. It quickly becomes clear how unwelcome foreigners like Jack are in this place, as locals set about on a ruthless murdering spree that ends up accounting for three-quarters of the total runtime. Opening lucidly, the dialogue-lite narrative allows precious little time for Wilson and Bell to settle into these decidedly restrained performances as heads of household. But it’s just enough.

No Escape certainly isn’t complicated. This is a contemporary survival film, demanding the bare minimum from viewers in terms of intellectual engagement. In fact it is so plot-less — we watch as a desperate family clings to life bouncing from point A to point B — drama develops emotionally rather than logically, à la Taken. Simply ignore all the (good) changes of fortune this family manages to experience throughout this harrowing adventure. If you are able to mentally block out the fact that in this world Asians are either the ones doing the killing or the ones being killed, you are all the better for it. With a little luck those feelings of resentment, annoyance, maybe even anger born out of the injustices we are forced to watch eventually will subside and yield some sense of relief come the film’s predictable albeit preferable conclusion.

Although I suspect leaving the theater completely satisfied isn’t going to be possible for a few. This isn’t the most pleasant film you’ll watch this year. The violence is brutal and virtually unrelenting from the half-hour mark onward and, as it was in another Owen Wilson-led drama set behind enemy lines, the bloodletting-as-demarcation-between-good-guy-and-bad-guy is ill advised. Nor is it a subtle technique; the Dwyers get so good at dodging bullets you might assume they stepped off the plane and into the matrix rather than an Asian country.

Yet this is hardly the film’s undoing. Where No Escape lacks in sensitivity and subtlety it compensates with a strong family dynamic. Wilson plays one of his most affable and natural characters in years, while Bell turns a new leaf as his loving, trusting wife trying her best to deal with such chaotic circumstances. There’s nary a sign of Bell’s comedic background here. The two children are realized honestly and convincingly, and best of all they aren’t saddled with the cliches that make kids in movies annoying and one-dimensional. Indeed, if there’s a reason to care at all about the film’s politics, it’s that this charming Western family doesn’t deserve to be any sort of target.

The Dowdles — John directed while his brother Drew wrote the story — don’t have the most original thriller in their pockets but their product isn’t false advertising. This is pretty thrilling stuff, even if the sociopolitical commentary is sloppy, and any attempts to immerse us in the culture are half-hearted at best. (Ironically the last thing we want is to be further immersed in this place once those first shots have been fired.) Brosnan bears worth mentioning as well, offering some much-needed grit as an apparent agent of the night, popping in ever so conveniently when the Dwyers seem to have met their fates. Hammond isn’t a well-established character but he’s also too likable to dismiss. Plus, you know, he’s got those skills that come in really handy. And a British accent that gives No Escape the facade of ‘international thriller’ it longs for.

From a strictly entertainment standpoint, the brothers Dowdle extract a consistently engaging journey out of chaos and hostility. The effort reminds us through solid performances and often confronting and pervasive violence, that there are few motivations stronger than a person’s will to survive.

Recommendation: Unquestionably flawed movie delivers the goods in the form of hard-hitting action sequences that go beyond mere visual panache. No Escape is trying to say something with its bloodiness, but unfortunately the script isn’t nearly good enough to warrant much comment on that. If, like me, you’ve been waiting for Wilson to do something different with his talents, then wait no more. His partnership with Brosnan is as entertaining as it seems on paper. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “We’ve got to get ourselves to the American Embassy.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

A Most Wanted Man

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Release: Friday, July 25, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

As all good things must, even A Most Wanted Man comes to an end.

And it’s going to take everything in my power to remain on the conservative side here, what with a possible capstone performance to mark the end of a career as towering as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s. Trust me when I say experiencing the final moments of this film is no easy task; that is, if you hold any empathy for the troubled man at all. That’s not to say we won’t be seeing him around in other things, of course. He’ll reprise his role for The Mockingjay: Part 1 this November, and he’s also turned up in the lesser-known 2014 drama God’s Pocket.

But in A Most Wanted Man, here’s where we are obliged to bid adieu to that more significant part of a once-in-a-generation performer. The celluloid here acts as a time capsule, in which Hoffman seems permanently encased. Selfish for us to try, sure, but it’s such a great performance there’s no way we can let this be over. Eventually we’ll have to.

In a somewhat befittingly stressful turn as Günter Bachmann, the leader of a secretive intelligence operation based out of Hamburg, Germany, Hoffman becomes involved in the (mis)handling of a young half-Chechen, half-Russian illegal immigrant named Issa Karpov (an incredible Grigoriy Dobrygin) who’s fleeing from torture and persecution in both his home countries. Bachmann’s methods are not attuned to those maintained by his peers, particularly the snaky Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) and his office’s roughneck tactics, and Bachmann holds a particular disdain for the Americans given a situation in the recent past. Pale, disheveled and with a cigarette permanently glued to his lips, Günter is the perfect enigma for Hoffman to decipher.

That the film does not become a sideshow to the real-life tragedy involving one of its cast members is almost miraculous. This will be the last of Hoffman’s lead roles, and while proximate his death, his work still remains relatively unaffected. He does, however, look physically exhausted in a number of scenes. But rather than directly confronting us with his sickly appearance, the film uses it for context, making great use of Hoffman’s tired expressions and measured delivery to express an epic character. His physique immediately conjures a lifetime of struggles.

In Anton Corbijn’s film, perspective taints objective reality. We spend our time with this rag-tag group of German intelligence operatives (whose casting includes the likes of Daniel Brühl and Nina Hoss) but does this mean this is the right side of the tracks to be on? Who really ought to be dealing with this suspected terrorist? Is that precisely what Issa is, a terrorist? What could have become an overwhelmingly complex and dense narrative instead is surprisingly simplified without cutting out critical details — the scarring on Issa’s back is very telling of a dark history and helps cement his nightmarish reality.

Highly compelling material adapted from the novel by John le Carré is distributed evenly and effectively across the film’s myriad talented stars. Willem Dafoe steps in as Tommy Brue, the head of a German bank which may contain funds to be inherited by Issa from his father, a man he claims to have raped his mother in front of him when he was much younger, and when Mother was a mere 15 years old. (Again, despite the crowd-pleasing flavor of the thrill, one thing A Most Wanted Man can’t be accused of is glossing over pertinent stuff.) Robin Wright matches her intensity in House of Cards and continues to affirm her spot in the upper echelons of great thespians with a spectacular performance as CIA Agent Martha Sullivan, who comes to Günter’s assistance when he needs it least. Or so he has determined.

A Wanted Man is a fiercely accurate rendering of real-world events unfolding in a period as hectic as the last ten years have been, both in the Middle East and on a global scale. A fictitious account of one man’s journey through bureaucracy in a desperate investigation into what his real identity is — is he terrorist blood or an innocent civilian trying to escape oppression? — here’s a story that at least demands an open mind.

While we revere this strange German’s effectiveness at his duties, it is safe to say we revere the man behind the man more. If all good things have to come to an end, Hoffman’s story has come to a very good ending indeed. He is hands-down the reason to watch this film, and in a masterpiece such as this, that’s relatively high praise.

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4-0Recommendation: One of the very best films of the year, not just as a genre film or from a performance-standpoint, A Most Wanted Man is an excellent way to spend $10. For the Philip Seymour Hoffman fans (of which I believe there are at least one or two), for the Robin Wright fans, for fans of excellent adaptations of books (supposedly. . .I would now like to read this book). For anyone wanting relevance to the ongoing ideological struggles amongst the myriad countries ensnared in violent turmoil in the Middle East currently, and between them and a United States government that insists on making everything its business, you are compelled. . .nay, required to watch this film. It is that good.

Rated: R

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “We find them. When they’re ours, we direct them at bigger targets. It takes a minnow to catch a barracuda, a barracuda to catch a shark.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com