It’s rare that a thriller can thrill throughout, but in director John Dowdle’s film “No Escape” the level of gut-wrenching intensity continues for the film’s entire 101 minutes. Furthermore, unlike many films in the thriller genre, the protagonists’ ultimate triumph feels entirely uncertain – a welcome relief to the well-worn Westerner in a Third World Country scenario.
Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) is a failed businessman who invented a water valve that in his words meant he “almost made it.” But, he didn’t. Instead, an international conglomerate that produces clean water for poor countries hires Dwyer – evidently even conglomerates attempting to provide clean water are inherently corrupt. So, the affable water engineer moves his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and two young daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare) from Austin, Texas to an unnamed Southeast Asian country to begin anew – the country borders Vietnam so, best guess, Cambodia.
Now that I’ve thoroughly impressed my five readers with my geography skills – i.e. Google Maps – I’ll continue. It’s apparent from the moment the family enters the country that they’re no longer in Texas or the good ole U.S. of A. The bourgeoisie and proletariat affirm Marx’s theory in this land of the Haves and Have Nots. Unbeknownst to the Dwyer family, they and all the vacationing Westerners – i.e. evil colonialist who creep into the arms of cheap hookers, drink cheap non-FDA approved booze and purchase cheap Asian-knockoff wares – are about to become center stage of an anti-foreigner and incredibly violent coup, which perhaps not so coincidently involves Jack’s company.
Almost immediately terrible things begin to happen, no promised taxi driver, no phone, more horribly no T.V. and a mysterious though unseen explosion in the middle of the night. To make a long night worse, Jack discovers Annie crying on the bathroom floor overwhelmed by the move. Annie presumably can’t imagine performing her stay-at-home mom routine with no Soaps to occupy her days – did I mention the T.V. doesn’t work?
The following morning Jack takes a scenic walk through town in search of a newspaper. Jack is curious to why he hasn’t heard from his company, so he hopes some news can shed light for him. But, to his dismay, after a funny encounter with a 150-year-old Asian man, the best he can acquire is a three-day old U.S. Today. Suddenly, slow-motion pan to a group of wind chimes – stuff’s about to get serious.
Jack is caught between a menacing mob of faceless, club-wielding Proletariats and an even more menacing group of riot-geared police officers on a small street with nowhere to go. But he goes, and as Jack makes his way back to the hotel he realizes that the riot wasn’t an isolated affair as the angry mob begins to murder Westerners throughout town. He then realizes that much of the mob’s attention is aimed at the glitzy – a Third World glitzy – hotel that’s occupied by those Western evildoers, including his family.
As hotel staff and customers are being hacked to pieces by the machete-wielding mob, Jack gathers up his family and heads to the roof on the advice of a weathered Englishman, Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), who the family met the night before. Though, as the film’s title indicates, nowhere is safe from the relentless mob. Brosnan’s character, though short on screen time, makes up for all of Brosnan’s miserable James Bond films by depicting a washed-up – you guessed it – British secret service agent who helps the family when the situation seems direst.
What makes this good film is that Jack and Annie are any of us. They’re not Pierce Brosnan’s philandering James Bond – see what I did there – where you know his MI6 training and womanizing makes him a cut above any of his foes. Instead, the pair is simply a terrified couple who have to make split-second decisions in an attempt to save their small girls. Any parent can empathize with Jack and Annie’s desperation. And though some social justice warriors have already taken to whining about the film’s depiction of Asia and Asians, it’s not exactly outside the realm of possibility to get caught in the middle of violent unrest while vacationing or working in a poorer Southeast Asian country. The Burmese call a military coup, Monday.
One of my five readers cried foul over possible spoilers in other reviews, so after rambling for 700 words the juts of what I’m attempting to convey is that “No Escape” is the palm-sweat inducing, harrowing thriller that will leave you satisfied you paid the ungodly price of admission. However, if you have even a modicum of affection for your wife and children I warn you there are uncomfortable scenes, which emphasizes my argument that this film works mostly due to its realness.
4 stars out of 5
“No Escape” is rated R for strong violence throughout, and for language.