The Escapist (2001)

“You try to make sense of what he said, but there’s nothing there.”

The Escapist didn’t sound like the sort of film I am usually interested in, but I decided to watch it due to the fact that Gillies MacKinnon directs the film. His film Small Faces remains one of my favourite all-time Scottish films, and while The Escapist sounds like a fairly run-of-the-mill action/revenge tale, I knew that MacKinnon would deliver much more than that. I was not disappointed. Just ignore the cheesy cover and have some faith in MacKinnon.

The Escapist begins with young pilot Denis Hopkins (Jonny Lee Miller) flying through beautiful blue skies and entertaining his young, pregnant wife Valerie (Paloma Baeza), her sister Christine (Johdi May) and her husband with a daredevil trick. Denis and his wife live in a gorgeous coastal home overlooking the ocean. They have an enviable life: they are young, happily married, affluent and expecting their first child in a few weeks.

All this perfection is ripped apart by the eruption of a violent, senseless home invasion. Held hostage by three revolting criminals, Denis’s privileged life seems to piss the criminals off, and their focus shifts from what they can steal to goading Denis using his pregnant wife’s vulnerability. The break-in results in Valerie’s death and extended prison sentences for the killers.

After Valerie’s death, Denis is unable to adjust to his new life and instead he decides to seek revenge by getting himself incarcerated in order to get close enough to savage, psycho gang leader Ricky Barnes (Andy Serkis) who’s being held in a remote high security prison.

Denis finds out that getting arrested is no guarantee that he’ll be sent to the same prison as Barnes, but he also discovers that continual escape attempts places him on something labeled the “magic roundabout” as he cycles back into increasingly escape-proof prisons.

Along the way, he makes friends with Scottish cellmate Ron (Gary Lewis)–a man seasoned enough to recognize that there’s a story behind his cellmate’s obsessive quest to escape with the intention of allowing himself to be captured again.

Denis finds out the hard way that possessing a great deal of courage is not the same as becoming a man of violence, but he crosses his first ethical boundary when he exploits a sympathetic prison guard.

The Escapist is great, satisfying entertainment and Jonny Lee Miller pulls out all the stops when he confronts his nemesis, Barnes, a man who personifies evil and seems to take delight in the fact that he ruined Denis’s life and ‘turned’ him to violence. The film’s dramatic, unexpected conclusion wraps up the story with more than a slice of irony. Now excuse me while I go rewatch Escape From New York.

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