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No Escape Delivers a Surprising Amount of Heart

<i>No Escape</i> Delivers a Surprising Amount of Heart

DVD Release Date: November 24, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: August 26, 2015
Rating: R (strong violence, including a sexual assault, and for language)
Genre: Action, Thriller
Run Time: 103 minutes
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Cast: Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Owen Wilson

What would you do to take back your country?

How far would you go to keep your family safe?

What atrocities would you commit in the name of self-defense? In the name of justice?

No Escape is almost entirely a thriller, a film to keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering whether your heroes can survive the next obstacle. However, between the mayhem and the gunfire, it prompts the viewer to ponder such questions.

What would you do if everything you thought you could count on went up in flames?

The Dwyer family is faced with those exact questions at the start of No Escape. Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson, Night at the Museum franchise), a deflated entrepreneur, has taken a job with a Western waterworks company and moved his young family to an undefined “fourth world” asian country near Vietnam to start a new life and bring clean water to the area. His wife Annie (Lake Bell, Million Dollar Arm), though clearly shaken by their confusing new surroundings, displays an admirable amount of fortitude, especially as she wrangles her daughters, tender Beeze (Claire Geare, Inception) and strong-willed Lucy (Sterling Jerins, World War Z).

Their hotel, while glamorous for such an obviously poor country, features faulty electricity and no cell or internet service. But things go from bad to worse when a revolt breaks out in the streets and angered, organized, violent citizen militia overpowers law enforcement efforts. The coup quickly spreads into the hotel itself, where executions are carried out immediately and without mercy - especially on the American businessmen staying at the hotel. 

The Dwyer family is forced to band together in bravery to overcome seemingly impossible situations and unbeatable odds, with the help of Hammond (Pierce Brosnan, The November Man) a British undercover agent of sorts. How will they flee a hotel overrun by militants bent on their destruction? Why are they targets? Is there any hope of reaching safety in the midst of such violent turmoil?

Most of the film is standard, edge-of-your-seat thrill-movie fare. We hold our breath when the characters evade the gunman around the corner. We wince with each new scrape and wound acquired by the heroes, especially the little girls. Most of the anticipation and interest merely lies in the survival factor. Will they or won’t they? In this regard the film is nothing surprising or unique, especially as the language barrier prevents us from understanding almost any dialogue not delivered by the four main characters.

However, No Escape does succeed where many disaster flicks fail, in that it shows us a family we can learn to care about, and it gives us a few moments poignant enough to make us stop and think. Perhaps it’s partially due to the gentle, non-action-hero quality Owen Wilson brings as the leading man, where a more classically “macho” actor would seem more predictable. Some of it certainly stems from the raw and palpable fear shown by Bell, and young actresses Geare and Jerins, as they try to comprehend their bizarre circumstances and learn to trust each other in completely new ways. Even Brosnan, a fairly one-dimensional character who serves several times as a kind of deus ex machina, brings an affability and a tenderness so often lacking from the guns-and-explosions thrill flicks.

As in many “disaster porn” movies, the chief purpose in several scenes is clearly to evoke heartbreak in the audience and make us think, Wow, I’m glad I’m not in that situation. But the actors exceed expectations and sometimes push the emotion further, prompting us to truly wonder, What would I do in the same situation? Could I be brave enough? Trusting enough? Desperate enough?

No Escape gives us a few moments to ponder the modern state of business, globalization, and corrupt government, but the plot is still too simplistic - as is its portrayal of the bloodthirsty natives pitted against the innocent white Americans. It features a strong cast we can care about, but at the end of the day, it’s still mostly watching characters hide, bleed, and scream for an hour and a half. It’s not a “family film,” but its best quality is its stirring portrait of familial strength and love. 

It’s not a film for everyone. It leaves a lot to be desired in the department of cultural nuance. And even for those who enjoy a good disaster flick, it’s nothing profound that anyone will be talking about in a year (or a month). But to give credit where it’s due, the film is far more touching than most of its genre-counterparts. There may be No Escape from the white-knuckle thrill formula, but there’s still a surprising amount of heart.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Characters are shown drinking beer and liquor at a hotel bar in one scene. Strong drink is referenced on a few occasions. People are shown briefly smoking.
  • Language/Profanity: Intense, but not pervasive. Sh-- and F--- are used several times each.
  • Sex/Nudity: A man references going to visit a strip club. A group of men rip open a woman’s shirt (her bra is visible) and attempt to rape her (nothing more is shown).
  • Violent/Frightening/Intense: Characters (including children) are in danger for the entire film: a group of men attempts to rape a woman, a man is shown slitting his own throat in an honor-suicide, bodies are shown in pools of blood, armed men shoot unarmed civilians, people are shot and beaten to death with blunt objects, people are run over by cars and tanks, a man tries to force a young girl to shoot her own father.

*Publication date: August 26, 2015