“No Escape” is a straight-laced action/thriller that feels very real from the opening scene. And part of the you-are-there feel is the manner in which the film is lensed with a deliciously rough visual scope on the Red Epic camera by cinematographer Léo Hinstin (“As Above, So Below). But the film’s authenticity also has to do with the momentum of riot conditions.
When the mob takes over, the group psychology flows through the participating crowd starting with protests, then evolving into criminal trespass and property damage, and even, at times, manifesting into bloodlust. For those of you who scoff at the violence depicted in “No Escape,” look no further than the murderous rampages that ravaged Rwanda in the mid-1990s. These things do happen.
“No Escape” is set in a place somewhere near Vietnam described by the characters as the “Fourth World.” When Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) and his wife Annie (Lake Bell) arrive in the developing country with their two kids, they notice things aren’t going well. Power is spotty, international cell phones don’t work, and even the television service is off-line. Jack and Annie were uncertain about the move from Texas in the first place. Jack is an engineer who invented a “valve” that has something to do with clean water. He’s been hired by a corporation to assist them on a water project in this unstable country. And it appears that they have hastily made the decision to take the job without much discussion—packing was done in a hurry.
Jack is befriended by a boozing Brit named Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), who assists his family in making the trip from the airport to the hotel. Later, Jack runs into Hammond in the hotel bar. Hammond is a mysterious fellow, but Jack likes him because, after all, they speak the same language.
The next morning when things go bad quick the action goes from zero to sixty as Jack and Annie must flee from their hotel through the streets of a dangerous and unknown city. A violent mob is on their heels with murder in their minds. And the level of violence is off-the-charts—no one is safe.
The brothers Dowdle, John Erick and Drew, make movies that are always on the move. Like their “As Above, So Below” released last year, “No Escape” tells a story that is constantly in motion, going forward and rarely slowing down for a breather. These brothers work together with Drew assisting with writing and producing duties and John Erick solely directing.
I’ve followed these filmmaking brothers for around a decade when I first met them at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2005. And like the narratives put forth in their films, their careers seem to be always progressing forward. “No Escape” is their biggest and most accomplished picture yet. While still retaining the lower budget feel that results in a gritty look, this movie plays well for a wide audience. And the pre-title sequence teases the possibility of this duo taking on something even larger but with the action chops that helped make “The Raid” and its sequel, arguably smaller films, worldwide hits.
One thing that helps step “No Escape” up is the presence of Owen Wilson, Pierce Brosnan, and Lake Bell, who are all committed to the material. Brosnan has some of the best joke lines that helps break the tension. His shadowy character does trade a bit on his former Bond persona, which is hard to forget. And Wilson seems comfortable in the action hero role with his pairing with Bell completely credible.
The events are fictional but comparisons to the Thailand tsunami film “The Impossible” are warranted albeit “No Escape” plays more like the “Die Hard” version of such a story. Both films are very much front loaded with riveting action.
And speaking of action, there is a scene in “No Escape” where Jack and Annie must leap from a hotel rooftop to another building. It played very well in the screening I attended with the tension so thick that folks laughed uncomfortably. At one point, the children are literally thrown between the buildings. I asked director John Erick Dowdle about shooting that scene. He told me by email:
The rooftop sequence took 8 days of shooting. The girls really did their own stunts. We shot it almost completely practically. We were on a real hotel rooftop with a real helicopter circling. We dropped a real helicopter carcass onto the roof. And those girls were really thrown off a 4 story rooftop. They were incredibly brave.
“No Escape” is in theaters now.