Thursday, August 27, 2015

"No Escape": a formulaic escape thriller for a trapped American family, but some serious lessons

No Escape”, directed by John Erick Dowdle, is a stereotyped “Screenwriting-101” action thriller where the hero, a family man Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson, in a somewhat atypical role) escapes with his family, saving all, from sudden, impossible circumstances imposed by an unexpected enemy overseas.
The country is not specified, but since he escapes to Vietnam (ironically), it has to be Laos or Cambodia, more likely the latter. The setup is like this:  Jack, a senior mechanical engineer, has (as an entrepreneur) invented a new valve system that will make water purification in third-world countries more reliable.  Pierce Brosnan plays Hammond, a British intelligence agent who helps in a critical sequence with the escape and explains how the US CIA and British government use businessmen as fodder. 

He finds a big engineering contractor employer to send him over there, with wife Annie (Lake Bell) and two young daughters.  But on the day of his rival, there is a left-wing, essentially communist coup (which is shown in the opening scenes) where a rebel government then goes after foreign civilians as part of the “capitalist pig” class keeping them indebted.  The crisis comes on first, although the night before, as he settles into a fancy hotel, Dwyer notices that the TV, Internet and phones don’t work, and when he goes out to buy a paper the next morning, nobody speaks English – and then he suddenly encounters the rebellion in the streets.
The story probably couldn’t happen right now.  But the film raises troubling ideas about the vulnerabilities of civilians when working overseas, or conceivably of controversial people even at home. The rebels regard the blind Dwyer (and his family members) as enemies as worthy of slaughter as any soldiers. One could draw parallels to many other situations: today, ISIS; in the past, the sacking of Saigon in 1975, or the hostages in Iran (and the America embassy gets overrun in this film, too).  Perhaps the best parallel would be the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.  I thought the appearance of the city and some of the plotting resembles what happens in the city of L'Himby in the "Third Dominion" of Clive Barker's "Imajica" (to become a TV miniseries). 

Some of the crisis scenes are indeed over the top, as when Dwyer throws his daughters to a roof on the next building, or a “Russian roulette” game near the end with a daughter (right out of “The Deer Hunter”) that as a bit offensive.  The violence for most of the film is relentless.  And there is plenty of display of patriarchal family values, as when Dwyer tells the older girl she has to watch and protect her little sister.

The film was shot in Thailand.  I’m not sure what foreign language is used, but it logically should be either Hmong or Khmer.

The official Facebook is here  (Weinstein company and Bold Films).

I saw the film in a small auditorium (which was OK as the film is shot 1.85: 1) at Regal Ballston, before a small Thursday night audience.

Wikipedia attribution link for "Cambodia ethnic map" by ArnoldPlaton, .svg based on this map (from UTexas under Public Domain "Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.") - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons. 


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