Review: No Escape
Tension is offset by absurdity and peril buffeted by recklessness in No Escape, a serviceable mixed bag of family drama and violent turmoil.
While in an anonymous Southeast Asian country (a stand-in for Thailand, where it was shot), the new life of Dwyer clan gets off to an inauspicious start before things get really bad. Taken to the other side of the world by the engineering job of the patriarch Jack (Owen Wilson), this American family finds crowded roads, questionable characters, and a lack of electricity upon their welcome.
Jack remains positive while his wife Annie (Lake Bell) tries to keep a composed exterior, and their two warm, vibrant daughters may be too young to not be optimistic. It helps too when a cavalier world traveler named Hammond (a fantastic Pierce Brosnan) pops in to show them the local way.
It only takes one night for the Prime Minister to be shot (we bear witness in a bloody opening), a coup to take place, and the streets lined with bloody and bodies. Jack finds himself strolling a market in the morning, seeking an English-language newspaper when he finds himself caught between two armed masses; among those targeted by the rebels are any unlucky Americans.
No Escape is careful not to run too far off the geopolitical rails; this is about an American family, yes, but not necessarily about American imperialism or capitalism, though it’s alluded to. The excess anonymous dead lend an uneasy pause. The bloodshed isn’t excessive, but death hangs in the air everywhere as begins a lengthy journey through stairwells and rooftops and alleyways to freedom for the Dwyer family.
Directed by John Erick Dowdle on a script he co-wrote with his brother Drew, this often taut thriller loses strength when it drips into melodrama and convenient decision making. They choose to make this film from the point of view of the family; we stay with them throughout, and occasionally are just as confused. However, too often are the other characters around them seemingly standing in awe, waiting for them to say or do something so they can react. When the Dwyers escape a rooftop (in a scene that borders on ridiculousness), one innocent bystander for reasons unknown waits and watches, as if the Americans must go first. He of course isn’t so fortunate.
Wilson and Bell may not necessarily have the proper chemistry as husband and wife, but they do as parents, holding together some of the more beyond-belief moments. Of course Brosnan’s suave Hammond can’t stay away for long, and he pops up knowing more than he yet on initially, and becomes a fun part of the film, even if he doesn’t quite fit in.
The quest is intimate and messy, with rare seconds to get composed. It’s for the best, because those seconds are when a lot of unsettling questions will creep in. Better this film viewed through the lens of Hammond, who evokes a retired secret agent on vacation, than Jack, a privileged, ignorant American dealing with mayhem in the Third World.