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I found myself assuming a fetal position in my chair, hand covering my mouth so I would stop myself from voicing my emotions out loud at the screen.
In No Escape, Owen Wilson plays a father who is trying to save his family from violence in Malaysia following the assassination of the Prime Minister. Like many people, at first I was a little uncertain about the comedy actor taking another stab at a dramatic action role (Behind Enemy Lines was decent, but not known to be one of his best works), but my doubt vanished quickly as I got absorbed in the very real intensity of a terribly frightening storyline. For having such a simple plot - escape a war torn country - the movie was nothing short of intense. It wasn’t complicated, wasn’t flashy, didn’t show excessive amounts of gore, wasn’t full of Michael Bay over-the-top explosions, but nonetheless, I found myself assuming a fetal position in my chair, hand covering my mouth so I would stop myself from voicing my emotions out loud at the screen.
Not that I was alone in my strong desire to vocalize my feelings. Throughout the theater, there were subtle gasps and intakes of breath between clenched teeth, small whispers of, “Get out of there!” or “Come on, you can do it,” and people clapping when the characters managed to escape situation after deadly situation. What’s normally so engaging about action dramas like this one is that exact tendency to put yourself in the character’s shoes, to be a part of the story; except normally you would be looking at it with the sense that you would know what to do better, and you’d be hyper-critical of the character’s mistakes. What No Escape does well is make clear that you are watching humans act like humans, lost and uncertain and making choices based on habit and instinct, not being rational in a scenario where an entire country’s rationality has flown out the window. You watch them behaving how the average person would behave, knowing that you probably would make the same mistakes, and it creates a realistically terrifying scenario. You find yourself with only one tether of hope to hold onto in a sea of brutal inhumanity, and it’s wrapped around this single family of innocents who manage to convince you that the fate of mankind is dependent on their escape. It drew me in so completely that for the length of time I spent in the theater, I forgot that anything else existed outside of the world that was being presented on the screen. That’s an admirable feat for any movie to pull off.
Not to say that everything about the film was perfect. I was disappointed by Pierce Brosnan’s character, an utterly unnecessary addition to the film outside of the needed exposition explaining the reason for the country’s fall into chaos. It was almost as if the filmmakers put him in as the comic relief to try to make Owen Wilson stand out that much more as the serious lead, blatantly trading the roles that the two actors normally portray. The truth was, by the very nature of the film, you couldn’t take Owen’s character as anything but the serious lead. Having Pierce Brosnan come in to pop off some Abbott and Costello-style lines with his silly sidekick immediately following an incredibly harrowing near-rape scene? Yeah, bad choice. You don’t gloss over a moment in which two little girls watch, horrified, as their mother comes within seconds of being violently raped with a campy conversation between the “heroes” in which they’re discussing which bad guys each one was was supposed to have gunned down. It was almost as if the filmmakers were so secretly uncomfortable about having included such a dark scene, they decided to try to wipe it away with something so ridiculously out of place that the viewers might forget the scene ever happened. Not that I’m saying I don’t understand the need for tension relief, something that was pulled off just fine here and there with some of Owen’s lines that were more realistic for the situation at hand (words spoken to his kids in hopes of making them less afraid, for instance), but sliding in some classless goofball antics utterly failed in its intended purpose. Instead, it only seemed to detract from the overall excellence of the film.
No, you didn’t read that wrong. The word used for this Owen Wilson dramatic action film was “excellence,” because that’s exactly how the audience seemed to feel towards it based on their applause the moment the credits started rolling. Even the kids were excited, more excited about a two hour film about a family escaping the horrors of war than the slew of dinosaur and robot and superhero films that they’ve otherwise been exposed to lately. How do I know? Because as soon as it was over, a young boy exclaimed in a voice so loud and awestruck that it probably could’ve been heard in the next theater over, “That was the shortest movie I’ve ever seen!” What more proof is needed than that?