Director John Erick Dowdle’s latest action film “No Escape” certainly brought the suspense, but when it comes to complexity and probability, the thriller fell short. Owen Wilson stars as Jack, an American father who moves his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and kids to a fictional Asian country for work, just hours before rebels take over the country and murder foreigners. The family must try to escape slaughter with the help of a tough, but comedic and kindly, British man named Hammond, played by Pierce Brosnan of “James Bond” fame.
The movie’s premise is irking from the start. It makes no sense that Jack would move his family to a foreign country without checking the place out first, especially if the nation could be dangerous. Since Jack and Annie do not mention that the country could be unsafe, the film gives viewers the impression that the rebellion happens literally overnight. This of course could not be the case. Hammond explains later on that the rebels are frustrated with the foreign companies (like the one Wilson goes to work for) who are taking advantage of their country. This point is only briefly touched upon, however, leaving viewers with a simplistic view of revolutions.
The Asian characters are also treated poorly throughout the movie. Among the Asian characters, only Hammond’s friend, known as Kenny Rogers, has a personality, but he has little screen time. There is not enough emphasis on the motivations behind the rebels. While Hammond does say the revolutionaries are just trying to protect their families, just like Jack, viewers cannot understand them because they are portrayed as both foreign and evil.
Still, the film succeeds in creating an emotional and tense tone. Even though viewers know Jack and his family are going to survive the coup, one cannot help being terrified for the characters. The use of slow motion and close-up shots allowed viewers to sense the stress the characters feel. I am not exaggerating when I say I do not think I have ever been that anxious watching a movie. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I was that anxious doing anything. From the moment the rebels attack until the credits rolled, my body was tensed up and I had my hand against my face in nervous shock.
This anxiety was at its highest when Jack has to throw his two young daughters from one building to the other, where Annie is waiting to catch them. The screams of the girls and the emotion on Wilson and Bell’s faces all strike fear into the hearts of the viewers. Usually in Hollywood when characters jump from building to building, they land gracefully. But Annie falls back onto the roof, scraping her shoulder and legs, each time she catches the girls. This sense of realism made it the strongest scene in the movie.
The film also thankfully did not give Jack superior fighting skills. While it’s true Jack probably fairs better in the middle of a coup than most American men would in real life, he does not suddenly obtain amazing moves that only a highly trained military person could have, as is the case in most action movies. His ability to survive comes from his quick thinking and his desire to save his family.
However, the filmmakers should have left out one scene that comes a little more than halfway through the movie. Here the rebels corner Jack’s family and attempt to rape Annie. This near rape scene (Hammond and Kenny Rogers come in to save the day) added nothing to the plot and was out of character for the revolutionaries. Throughout most of the movie, the rebels quickly and indiscriminately kill the foreigners, so why now would they stop to rape Annie? Thus, the scene becomes another example of unnecessary sexual assault and violence toward women in Hollywood films.
Yet, if you can get past these problematic aspects, it is possible to enjoy the movie. If you are looking for a nice, relaxing time, this is not the movie for you. But if you like movies that make your heart race or cause you to genuinely fear for the characters, take a shuttle into North Haven to see “No Escape.”