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Ray Breslin, the world's foremost authority on structural security, agrees to take on one last job: breaking out of an ultra-secret, high-tech facility called "The Tomb.” But when he is wrongly imprisoned, he must recruit fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer to help devise a daring, nearly impossible plan to escape from the most protected and fortified prison ever built.
For more about Escape Plan and the Escape Plan Blu-ray release, see Escape Plan Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 31, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Mikael Håfström
Writers: Michael Chapman (I), Jason Keller
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jim Caviezel, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vinnie Jones, Sam Neill
» See full cast & crew
Escape Plan Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 31, 2014
The so-called War on Terror has had one extremely problematic element which continues to nag at social libertarians and strict Constitutionalists alike, two groups who tend not to agree on all that much otherwise: what do we do with the terrorists after we've caught them? As recently as this year's State of the Union address, President Obama was once again raising his long expressed desire to close the "detainee" prison at Guantanamo, though that is still a highly charged issue that evidently has little chance of making it through Congress. The 2013 thriller Escape Plan has a really interesting subtext dealing with this very subject, which is not to say that the film is all that concerned with really delving into it. Instead we're offered a sort of Black Ops situation where a super secret prison houses all sorts of nefarious bad guys who are under the thumb of a martinet warden. These prisoners have all (in the somewhat ungrammatical parlance of the day) been "disappeared", simply removed from their previous lives and transported to the facility, where supposedly they will spend the rest of their lives in high tech confinement. It's interesting to note that the real life Guantanamo Bay prison only houses a few hundred inmates, while the institution depicted in Escape Plan seems to hold several times that number, which might lead some to believe either the worldwide terrorist threat is considerably more dangerous than even the most alarmist among us believes, or at least that whoever is rounding up these bad guys is a lot more successfully active than even our (also hotly debated) drone program.
Escape Plan features a number of conceits throughout its running time, including one that opens the film. We see a prisoner in a high security facility going through all sorts of machinations, including counting guards' footsteps and doing something with spitballs in a toilet, which all lead up to a brilliantly engineered escape. The more "twist savvy" among you will probably guess before it's revealed that the character actually is a good guy, a prison break expert named Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone), whose mission in life is to investigate supposedly completely secure jails to determine if indeed they really are. His partner in crime (so to speak) is a kind of oily guy named Lester Clark (Vincent D'Onofrio), who helps Ray explain to their latest "victim", a hapless warden who can't quite believe what's happened to him, how exactly Ray managed to slip out of the place.
That then sets up the major conceit of the film, where a mysterious woman named Jessica Miller (Caitriona Balfe) arrives at Ray's office, identifies herself as a CIA operative, and asks for Ray's help in "checking out" a new maximum security prison where the world's most dangerous terrorists are held. These are the sorts of people who are never given any kind of due process and who, in Miller's ungainly terminology, are simply "disappeared". None of Ray's usual safety protocols will be allowed in this case—his team will have no idea where he is, and despite there being an evacuation code and even a tracer implanted in his shoulder, no one is feeling great about the situation, other than Les, who's giddy over the huge payday they're being offered.
Ray is given a fake ID as an international bombing suspect, and he is "renditioned" (in yet another word evolution disaster) on a crowded street in New Orleans. Within moments, the guys abducting him remove the tracer from his shoulder and then shoot him full of sedatives. He awakes briefly to see a violent guard shove a prisoner out of a plane (without a parachute, by the way), and then is drugged again, finally awakening in an improbably high tech prison that looks like a set designer's wet dreams (if such dreams were made of Plexiglas).
The prison—nicknamed (rather appropriately) The Tomb—is not your typical maximum security operation. The prisoners are kept on separate levels in isolated clear glass cells which are monitored 24/7 by a huge contingent of guards. We quickly learn that the warden, one Willard Hobbes (Jim Caviezel, about as far from Jesus as you can imagine), has built the prison based (of course) on Ray's theories of how to escape. Ray is therefore in a maze of his own making, in a way. Also adding to Ray's stress is that Hobbes is not the warden Miller had told him would be there, and in fact Hobbes not only doesn't know that Ray is Ray, he also has no clue what this confounding "evacuation code" is all about, thinking it's just some kind of lame brained joke on the part of Ray.
Things begin to look up, if only marginally, when Ray is befriended by another inmate, a hulking brute named Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger, in what is really a supporting role), who is in fact not a terrorist but instead the right hand man of some kind of international bogey man named Mannheim, a guy whom Hobbes has an inordinate interest in. Ray and Rottmayer begin to try to figure out if there is any possible way out of this seemingly inescapable fortress, which provides most of the rest of the goings on in the film.
Escape Plan has a lot of fun elements, but it's repeatedly hobbled by what is either some really boneheaded screenwriting or (in what is my personal hunch) a kind of shoddy editing situation which leaves too much unexplained. There are several notable omissions here, including repeated allusions to a tragic backstory for Ray which are never fully explored (actually, they're never even minimally explored). Miller's role in the story, including a late denouement, strains credulity to the breaking point (though one deleted scene sheds at least a little light on the proceedings). Hobbes is a fascinating character, with some really troubling characteristics (not just limited to his butterfly collecting— watch how he strokes the head of one of the guards in a late scene in the film) which are also never really delved into. Sam Neill, who's on hand as the facility's doctor, is also wasted in a completely underwritten and even unnecessary role. I won't even spend much time mentioning great supporting actors like Amy Ryan, since the reasons for their characters being in the film seem to have been left on the cutting room floor. There's a late connection between one of Ray's cronies and Mannheim that hasn't the barest attempt at an explanation in the film. And again and again the film simply relies on Ray's repeated "Plan B" machinations, without ever fully letting the audience in on how these alternatives were developed.
The film has its requisite number of ostensible twists. As mentioned above, at least a couple of these anyone hip to these kind of plot pretzels will see coming from a mile away, but there's at least one nice reveal about halfway through the film, after Ray finally is able to figure out exactly where they are. It turns out that only creates a new host of problems in terms of an escape route. But there's always Plan B.
Escape Plan Blu-ray, Video Quality
Escape Plan is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.39:1. Digitally shot with the Arri Alexa, Escape Plan may not be quite as sharp looking as some would expect, but it's overall a very satisfying high definition presentation, with excellent fine detail, even in some of the heavily color graded shots (a lot of the prison sequences are once again in that ever popular slate gray-cool blue ambience). Contrast is generally very strong, able to navigate the bright, sunlit outdoor scenes and the darker, danker prison scenes (though some of the nighttime scenes late in the film suffer from a lack of shadow detail). Director Mikael Håfström and cinematographer Brendan Galvin employ some extreme close-ups throughout the film, which aids fine detail quite a bit (to the point where even the use of Botox can't quite overcome the crags and valleys in the stars' faces).
Escape Plan Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Escape Plan's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is a riot of surround activity, and I do mean riot, as there are several prison melées that break out in the film that provide ample immersion. There's great attention paid to the cavernous ambience of the high security prison, with nice discrete channelization of various groups huddled together in different parts of the main gathering area. Dialogue is very cleanly presented and there's considerable LFE in a couple of outstanding action sequences.
Escape Plan Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Escape Plan Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Escape Plan could very well have been a fantastic thriller, if only it had dared to really delve into some of the political subtext it so carefully dances around (there's one terrifying scene where Ah-nold is more or less waterboarded, and the film could have used more of that acute sensibility). But the biggest thing hurting this film is what isn't in it—whole subplots seem to have been jettisoned, with only mere remnants remaining. There's still the kernel of a fun time here, and Stallone and Schwarzenegger are both surprisingly good, but this is one of those "could have been" experiences that may leave a lot of viewers feeling slightly frustrated. Still, this Blu-ray has solid technical merits and there's (maybe just barely) enough here to warrant this release coming Recommended.
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