One of the more intriguing types of films to me is one that opens my eyes to unfamiliar cultures or climates from around the world. Every once in a while, I like having that constant reminder of just how good I have it living in the country that I do. “No Escape” – which stars Owen Willson, Lake Bell, and Pierce Brosnan – was not only one such movie. But also quite a surprise. Although the final act went a bit off the rails in terms of ridiculousness. I found it to be a visceral experience. And I don’t remember sitting on the edge of my seat for such extended periods of time in quite a while.
The plot of the film is one of those “wrong place at the wrong time” scenarios. Jack Dwyer (Wilson) uproots his family from their home in Texas for a new career after his near-breakthrough invention failed stateside. The four – which include his wife Annie (Bell) and their two daughters. Immediately face the stark realization of just how rough it is to live in a third (or fourth) world country.
This goes beyond simple misunderstanding due to “lost in translation” moments. Their new home country not only lacks the luxuries that they are used to. But also has the over-looming threat of violence which can erupt at a moment’s notice. And erupt it does. The Dwyer family finds themselves in the middle of a regional coup that forces them to run for their lives from a group of seeming mercenaries who executes any and all foreigners that they can track down. What transpires is a horrific thrill ride that kept my eyes glued to the screen with barely a chance to breathe.
One of the biggest reasons I wanted to see this film so much was because I was interested to see Owen Wilson play a character that strayed from his usual dopey shtick he almost ceremoniously delivers in romantic comedies. As someone who had never seen “Behind Enemy Lines”. It was a totally new and refreshing experience to see him utilize his humor only in appropriate family situations.
If you had told me a few years ago that I would buy him as a total badass protecting his family from machine gun-wielding political radicals. I would have laughed in your face. But I did. Wilson totally sold me as a man who would do anything for his family. Lake Bell as Annie was equally impressive, even though she hasn’t been nearly as type-cast as Wilson. The two worked particularly well together, as I never doubted for a second that the four Dwyers were actually family. One of the film’s greatest strengths as your belief in their unity is paramount to your sympathy.
The one character I expected to stick out like a sore thumb was Pierce Brosnan’s “Hammond”. A friendly character the Dwyers met on the flight from the U.S. Who helps them find their way in this foreign land. His story gets more involved towards the end. But I mostly appreciated Brosnan’s performance as one of the more interesting characters he’s played in some time. At times, however, it did appear as though he was summoning his inner-Bond, substituting his tuxedo for Hawaiian shirts.
What really drove No Escape (Khong Loi Thoat) home for me was the atmosphere that director John Erick Dowdle. (“Quarantine”, “As Above, So Below”) has created. The first three-fourths of the movie in particular had some of the most intense, nail-biting scenes I’ve seen this year. The violence felt real, the hatred felt warranted. And the brief moments of solace between the action felt like a welcomed relief each time.
My only real complaint is that towards the end. The story took a slightly different turn that kept this from being what I would otherwise consider to be a near-perfect movie. I don’t want to run the risk of spoiling the plot. But the action in this final reel reaches ridiculous levels that actually detracted from the intensity. I found myself wishing different, daring decisions were made by the characters to make it a much more bold piece of work. However, I wouldn’t consider it a fault of the film, nor a reason to avoid it.
“No Escape” deserves to the sleeper hit of the summer blockbuster season. The first two acts of the film alone are well worth the price of admission. Just prepare for some unnecessary. Over-the-top action as we careen away from believability into reality-stretching. Regardless, this film might restore your faith in Owen Wilson’s ability to take a serious role instead of ones that have him constantly saying “wow”. I would recommend this movie so long as feeling uncomfortable in your theater seat doesn’t bother you. It might even make you think twice about complaining on Facebook about a rough day. This is a reminder to us that those jokes about “first world problems” have a bit more weight to them then we like to admit.