This past weekend as I was scrolling through Netflix, as you do, and saw that they had added the 2015 thriller No Escape. I remembered watching this movie in theaters when it first came out and being so enthralled. After realizing my roommate had never seen it, we hunkered down for a heart-racing trip that, even the second time around, did not disappoint.
In short, No Escape features Jack (Owen Wilson) and Annie (Lake Bell) as a married couple who, with their 2 young daughters, move to a foreign country on the same night a revolution sparks. Finding themselves targeted for execution by the rebels, the film follows the family as they try to escape the country with their lives.
Sure, the premise might sound a little over-the-top to some, but in my opinion the idea was so smartly carried out that it was believable and engaging. I especially loved the casting in this film -- I already loved Owen Wilson and Lake Bell individually, but it was so nice to see them cast in a suspense/thriller where you might normally expect to find a Ben Affleck or Jessica Alba type. The two are so often seen in comedies (this was Wilson’s first dramatic role since 2001) or as secondary characters (Bell as the friend Tipper in What Happens in Vegas is one my all time favorite movie besties), so it was refreshing to see their more serious acting chops brought to the forefront. Bell’s performance as the petrified but determined mother was easily one of the best aspects of this movie for me and I so love how she had the opportunity to show off her skills to a wider audience than might already have known her.
If you’re not immediately familiar with No Escape, you might remember the previews from a few years ago that featured Wilson throwing a little girl over a rooftop to her mother. It was a jarring few seconds that pulled my heart into my throat and made this movie a must-see for me. The idea that someone might be in such horrific danger that their best and only option is to THROW THEIR CHILD OFF OF A ROOF is one of the more gripping things I’ve seen on screen in recent years. It pulls you in so successfully that you almost feel like it’s your own flesh and blood who is in imminent danger and you have to make sure they are going to be okay.
This movie had the most beautifully shot cinematography and editing choices. The fast-paced, heart-racing moments of intensity one after the other are balanced out with slower, silent minutes that were still emotionally charged. Chaos followed by quiet panic, highlighting the reality of the situation. This was specifically charged during scenes where the family was hiding and the camera would show the feet of their potential captors walking around from their perspective. These clever camera angles and the use of slo-mo definitely upped the ante. As a viewer I was always in suspense of what was going to come around the next corner, or what the camera would pan to next. It was fascinating to experience this same suspense from my couch, already knowing what would happen, as it did the first time in the theater -- the true test of it’s success for me.
For a movie that might not have the most believable circumstances it still managed to portray a genuine sense of urgency. Of course, there are those moments in these types of films where a bullet is conveniently dodged or help turns up at the exact right moment, and you want to scream “yeah right” at the TV. Those few scenes in No Escape were balanced out by moments where characters, mostly Wilson’s Jack, would take a wrong turn or run into danger that was so obviously the dumbest move he could make, but still managed to be believable as a disoriented and panicking American in the midst of foreign terror. The combination of these made the film feel real. In that same vein, there were moments when they really delved into the trauma of the moment, without making it seem too exaggerated or “extra.” For instance, when the younger daughter has to urinate in her pants while they were hiding from gunmen, or towards the end of the movie where Jack is so tired and disoriented that he just can’t make himself take another step.
Political commentary in the film was nicely done, hitting on some hot-button political and philosophical ideals that I would say are even more relevant today than they were when the film premiered. There are obviously serious representations of violence in this film, not only the perilous situations that the family is put in, being shot at, attacked, hunted, etc. but the representation of the conflict in general showed the chaotic, harsh, and sometimes gory realities of a nation in revolt.
In an article published by the New York Post, the very real dangers of making this movie were highlighted. During production in Thailand, where their own political unrest was occurring, Wilson said, “we had had to be done filming by a certain time, because they didn’t want our movie riot to touch off a real one.” I’m sure the seriousness of that worry bled into the acting and lent a sense of authenticity to the scenes. Again, Wilson said himself, “It helped to film this movie where we did. It’s easier to sell the idea that you’re confused and don’t know what’s going on, because that’s oftentimes how you feel when you’re traveling in strange places.”
Despite how easy it might be to divide this film into “good guys” and “bad guys,” -- the nice American family vs. the awful people trying to kill them -- the reality is not always that black and white. For example, there are moments in the film where native rebels show small moments of kindness to the family, or at least not overt disdain. There is an especially poignant scene in which mysterious operative-like man named Hammond (played by Pierce Bronson and not entirely unlike James Bond himself) says to Jack: “These people are trying to protect their families much like you are.” He goes on to explain how the two of them have played a part in the events that led to the revolution, either knowingly or otherwise. These gray areas make the film so much more emotional when you’re forced to acknowledge the circumstances that have pushed the rebels toward violence, and also how Jack’s own hands are not blood-free.
Yes, there is an element of enjoyable suspense to this film, and yes, it tells a dramatic family story, but for me the takeaway was greater than that. This kind of conflict is always much larger and much more complicated than the bad guy pointing a gun at the good guy.
No one is all one or the other and everyone is just trying to protect the people they love.