THE MOVIE Rupert Wyatt, director of The Escapist, has clearly studied the art of creating tension. His prison-break flick is all about the cliffhanger: Will the prison kingpin foil the escape plan? Will the escapees drown in the rapidly filling prison sewers? Will they break through the wall before the howling dogs track them down? But Wyatt forgot one important element: You have to care about the people who are escaping.
The movie was shot at Ireland's 18th-century Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison now operating as a museum. The stone hall, with its caged staircases and rings of tiny cells, creates a claustrophobia that leaves you gasping for light and air. The implausible plot, unfortunately, has the same effect. You learn next to nothing about the main characters' pasts or their desires for the future, which makes the more dubious scenes--like the one where a man cuts off his own thumb with barely a whimper--less forgivable.
Frank (Brian Cox) is a gruff old lifer who finds out that his young daughter is a junkie in danger of dying. He decides to break out and go to her. He and his four accomplices have to cut, dig, and tunnel their way out, and confront a few garden-variety prison thugs along the way. These include a sadistic redhead with a creepy music box named Rizza (Damian Lewis) and his weasely rapist of a brother, Tony (Steven Mackintosh).
The escape plan's details are decidedly farfetched. Batista (Seu Jorge), the prison cocaine connect, somehow has a lab stocked with Bunsen burners and beakers, so he can easily concoct a poisonous batch meant to kill Tony. Another escapee stages a fight with a prisoner who has a diamond embedded in his tooth, and succeeds in knocking out that very tooth. Diamond in hand, he's able make a tool that cuts through steel.
The story flashes back and forth between life at the prison and the escape, an unusual method that sometimes succeeds in creating tension. And many scenes have a compelling Clockwork Orange-like menace. A shower rape scene takes place under a cloak of hissing white steam, and new inmates are treated to a surreal hazing involving a drag queen, a phonograph, and cries of "Pussy!"
Oh and there's a twist at the end. But by that time, you might have broken free yourself.
THE DISC The extras include a couple of deleted scenes and "The Making of The Escapist" featurette, which consists of interviews with the director, co-writer, director of photography, and various actors.