John Erick Dowdle’s No Escape

There may not be much of a, shall we say, culturally tactful or sociopolitically subtle premise behind No Escape, but I’d be lying if I said that this isn’t an almost unbearably suspenseful, purely nightmarishly effective thriller. Owen Wilson and Lake Bell play a wealthy American couple on a business trip to some unnamed southeast Asian country that is going through kind of a rough patch, politically and economically. When the hotel they are staying in is stormed by a citizen’s army of ruthless, barbaric rebels staging an infrastructure-shattering coup, they are forced to flee through the dangerous streets of the city with no law enforcement or anyone to help them, save for one British intelligence agent played by Pierce Brosnan, an undercover operative who does his best to help them amidst the chaos of a country turning itself inside out. Now, I see from this director’s filmography that his work is almost all in the horror genre so far, which makes sense because this film is so punishingly, exhaustively suspenseful and tense that it could almost be classified as horror itself. The rebels are a terrifying, almost inhuman threat around every corner and are both willing and capable of inflicting frightening atrocities, as this family dodges them at every turn. If I were this director though I would have mayhaps lent my talents to a better, more tasteful script though, and here’s why: Wilson and his kin barely register as characters of their own, but rather blank, terrified chess pieces being frantically shunted across the board of pre-constructed dangers with no real agency or unpredictability of their own. The rebels are a faceless army of homicidal, rape inclined psychos and we get zero grasp on their cause or agenda beyond hunting this family down at al costs. The city they’re in doesn’t even have a name, and that’s how much this script cares for specificity or nuance. The only believable, well rounded character is Brosnan’s guilt ridden agent, he brings an obligatory Bond-esque charisma to the role while retaining this sort of haggard, world weary resolve too and is actually quite good. But his character and the unbelievable talents of the director in generating horrific suspense could have been put to use in a much better setting, premise and story beyond ‘white American family is brutalized by savage Asians in a crumbling third world.’

-Nate Hill

Pride & Glory

Pride & Glory is a gritty police melodrama that grabs the audience, shakes them till the point of concussion and wrings the life out of them with it’s nonstop intensity and performances that could raise buildings to the ground. Think I’m exaggerating or overselling? Give it a go, it’s fucking nuts. NYC cop dramas are a common occurrence out there, and have been for a long while, but something about this one just rings eerily true, rattles your cage and lets both the violence and corruption seep into the marrow of one’s viewing experience. After a drug deal erupts into multiple murder, a family of cops is thrown in an uproar. Haggard straight arrow Edward Norton is on point of investigation by boozy patriarch Jon Voight, and ends up finding out way more than he bargained for not only in regards to the NYPD, but about his fellow cop brother (Colin Farrell) too. Their third brother (underrated Noah Emmerich) is too busy taking care of his sick wife (Jennifer Ehle) to notice the corruption, or maybe does and looks the other way. Every faction adds to the pressure cooker of an atmosphere, rooted in the familial relationships that can’t withstand dangerous secrets. They should call the guy Colin Feral, because he’s a right beast as a guy whose moral compass is so out of whack he doesn’t know who he is anymore. The actor is fervently complex in his work, and makes the guy way more human than other performers would, but he’s still terrifying, whether threatening a newborn baby with a hot iron or full on brawling with Norton in a fracas of a man to man bar-fight. Voight is one of those characters who is so corrupt he doesn’t even notice it anymore, which is a dangerous avenue to arrive at when you’re in such a position of power. The supporting cast is pockmarked with fiery work from terrific actors including super underrated Carmen Ejogo, Wayne Duvall, John Ortiz, Lake Bell and two arresting turns from reliable firebrands Frank Grillo and Shea Wigham. Built around a script by Joe Carnahan, who feeds off of authentic dialogue and realistic shaping of events, this is one that pulls you right into it’s suffocating world of beleaguered sentinels of law enforcement whose eyes have become dim to that thin blue line separating order and madness. Brilliant, heavy stuff.

-Nate Hill