Director: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Sahajak Boonthanakit, and Pierce Brosnan
Going to a foreign country shouldn’t be as terrifying as director John Erick Dowdle makes it in his unnerving action thriller “No Escape”. This isn’t the first time the theme of fear has been explored by the director; Dowdle’s last film, “As Above/So Below”, was a horror film about a group of young explorers who get trapped in the catacombs below Paris. Dowdle has made quite a career exploring terror, which doesn’t make it surprising that “No Escape” has a few anxious and unsettling moments. While the film utilizes good techniques to maintain a consistent level of apprehension, the story never comes close to reaching the same quality.
Jack (Owen Wilson) and Annie Dwyer (Lake Bell) are moving with their two young daughters to a foreign country. Jack has taken a job with a multinational water company as an engineer. Trying to make the most of this unwanted situation, Jack and Annie put on brave faces for their children. On the plane ride The Dwyer’s meet a scruffy and scared man named Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) who ends up helping them to their hotel amidst their cultural confusion. Things take a turn for the worse as a violent political coup takes place in the unnamed country, leading the group of rebels to hunt and kill the people who are taking their water.
The film doesn’t take long in establishing The Dwyer’s situation before moving into an all out violent action film. Jack finds himself in the middle of a street confrontation between the rebels and police; things don’t end well for the police who are over powered. Jack weaves through the maze of shops and back alley passages, dodging knife and gun wielding rebels at every corner. Dowdle keeps the pacing frantic and the distress peaked by utilizing handheld techniques but also keeping the framing of the film tight, rarely giving the viewer perspective of the city and focusing on the expressions and movements of the actors. There is an anxiousness that is established by these techniques, a reflection of the title of the film.
Unfortunately the narrative is filled with action movie clichés. The character development during a particularly pivotal moment doesn’t make much sense or give much reasonable explanation, and the establishment of the group of antagonists is pushed aside by lame, dumbed down reasons in a blundering attempt to add a political angle to the situation. The violence that has overtaken this city, placing innocent residents in terrible peril, is focused by the narrative on The Dwyer family, never looking back at the hundreds of executed residents laying on the streets, many who were merely trying to stand up amidst the opposition. The one character from this unspecified country is given a sliver of story, awkwardly placed as a Kenny Roger’s loving sidekick for Pierce Brosnan’s shady character.
The actors do a good job of looking terrified. Owen Wilson and Lake Bell portray the aspects of being a parent well, calming and motivating their two children at the most extreme ends of the emotional spectrum. “No Escape” maintains an anxious and action packed tone throughout, but unfortunately the clumsily pieced together and culturally misguided narrative turns this film into one long chase scene with nothing to say.
2.25 out of 5.00