4 posts categorized "Prison Escape"

September 06, 2015


Papillon Co-written by surviving HUAC-blacklisted (“Hollywood Ten”) screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, and contributed to by the gifted William Goldman (“Marathon Man”), “Papillon” is a biographical prison escape saga like no other.

This brilliant film’s ingenuous script takes full advantage of the book’s most sensational, if odious, aspects without making judgments. What you get is a full-throated tale of human endurance by a doomed prisoner who relies on his friendship with France’s most prolific counterfeiter (Louis Dega) as much as Dega relies on him. The escape adventure movie is also a love story between two men.

Over more than a decade, career criminal Henri “Papillon” Charriere (Steve McQueen) attempts repeated escapes from a French prison on “Devil’s Island,” 12 miles off the coast of French Guiana. Some of Papillon’s attempts are more successful than others. He keeps falling for the same boat-buying scam by ruthless con men that prey on the prison’s desperate prisoners.

Based on Charriere’s memoir, McQueen’s Papillon ages believably over his 11-year confinement, yet the character never looses his childlike hunger for freedom. For the condensed dramatic license that Trumbo and Goldman gleefully take, we can be certain that life for prisoners on the prominently guillotine-equipped penal colony was fearsome. A graphic scene of the guillotine in use creates a shocking and chilling effect, heightened by the presence of kneeling prisoner-witnesses when the deadly blade drops. The prisoner’s head falls off. Blood splatters on the movie screen. This is ‘70s era filmmaking at its most provocative.


Famous after having directed two hugely successful films — “Planet of the Apes” (1968) and “Patton” (1970) — Franklin J. Schaffner created an exact full-scale replica of the remote island prison down to every last detail. The movie breathes with realism. The blackout roof that Papillon’s guards pull over his solitary confinement cell as added punishment is accurate, as is the blocked-off wall slot through which he receives a steady diet of watery broth. Correct too is the hole in the cell door that Papillon sticks his head through to be shaved or choked, depending on the day.

This consummate prison-break epic features Steve McQueen’s greatest transformation of character creation over the course of his estimable film career. His multi-layered character examination here persuasively anchors the reversal-filled storyline. McQueen plays the iron willed Papillon with a clear-eyed intelligence tempered by an invincible capacity for endurance. He’s a survivor. When necessity demands, Papi chops up cockroaches and giant centipedes to put in the broth he eats as his only nourishment in solitary confinement. He tells himself that he will eat everything they give him in order to keep up his strength.

Director Schaffner buffers Papillon’s misadventures with appropriately surreal dream and nightmare sequences. Upside-down perspective-shifts and widescreen horizon shots demonstrate Papillon’s troubled subconscious mind.

Dustin Hoffman is a perfect foil for Steve McQueen’s rugged charisma and fascinating gifts as an actor. You can see in the way that Hoffman’s character looks up to Papillon, that part of that admiration is coming also from Hoffman the actor.


Rated R. 151 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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August 02, 2015


ManEscapedFrench filmmaker Robert Bresson invented the prison escape genre in 1956 with a beautifully sparse piece of cinematic storytelling told from the personalized viewpoint of an escaped prisoner. It is a minimalist story expressed for maximum effect.

The film’s opening scene displays the hands of Fontaine (Francois Leterrier), a captured French Resistance Fighter, as he fingers the backseat door latch of the car he rides in with his German abductors. He glances over at his two fellow French prisoners who are handcuffed together. When the time comes, Fontaine makes a break for it and is immediately captured and pistol-whipped by his Nazi keepers. In prison, Fontaine’s bloodstained shirt serves as a constant reminder of punishments that await should his escape attempt be unsuccessful. It also functions as a warning to other prisoners that this guy is trouble. Bresson never lets the audience forget how Fontaine got here, and that his primary objective is escape.


During the film we never see the faces of Fontaine’s Nazi keepers at Montluc prison in Lyon where the malnourished convict regularly hears the sound of other prisoners being shot in the courtyard. Once in his cell, Fontaine taps on both sidewalls to communicate with prisoners in adjacent cells. No such luck.

These are the details that Bresson uses to keep his audience in touch with Fontaine’s singular mindset hiding behind his poker-faced facade. Fontaine’s voiceover narration provides resonant context that could otherwise be misinterpreted, such as when Fontaine is returned to his cell after being sentenced to death during an off-prison trip to the notorious Hotel Terminus, where Nazi officials conducted interrogations, and brutal torture. Fontaine recollects how he dropped down on his bed and laughed, although on screen he appears to be crying. This is not a man who can be fooled by his own emotions.


Bresson works primarily in close-ups, showing Fontaine working away with a filed-down spoon handle to loosen the boards of his cell door. Weeks of monotonous tension-filled work pay off. Still, he has to protect the door from being slammed lest the loose boards fall out. The doomed prisoner is finally able to get out of his cell at will, but preparing the rest of his escape plan will be even more painstaking. We watch as he removes the wire netting from his bedframe to use as reinforcement for the rope he needs to descend away from death.

“A Man Escaped” is the filmic document of a Frenchman who fought in the resistance, and was imprisoned by the Nazis. A standard-bearer of French Cinema, Bresson intuitively understood the need for silence to evade captors and to discover the inner truths of human motivation and intention. Such purity is clear in every frame of this film. To escape from captivity is to decide that your life is worth more than your captors, and that of your fellow prisoners. You can laugh about the things that made you cry if you are smart and lucky enough to get out alive.


Not Rated. 99 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

November 16, 2010



Writer/director Paul Haggis's prison-break drama is so full of plot holes that it defies  all suspension of disbelief.

Based on Fred Cavayé's 2008 French thriller "Anything for Her," Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks play husband and wife John and Lara Brennan. They form a tight-knit family unit with their six-year-old son Luke. John works as a Pittsburgh high school English teacher.

Russell Crowe Elizabeth Banks by Timothy Jackson, via 500px. Russell Crowe  and Elizabeth Banks film scenes o… | Elizabeth banks, Russell crowe, The  next three days

Meanwhile, Lara toils in a high-rise office under an insufferable female boss. Said boss wakes up dead in a parking lot where Lara was spotted at the time of the crime. Prison doors slam on Lara, who faces down a life sentence she isn't mentally capable of enduring. John gets in touch with a certain Damon Pennington (scene-stealer Liam Neeson), a prison-escapee-turned-author, for a crash course in how to break Lara out and escape to another country.

The Next Three Days Movie Review, Starring Russell Crowe and Elizabeth  Banks 2010-11-19 08:30:40 | POPSUGAR Entertainment

Here's where the movie turns due South. Although Pennington specifically tells John he will need help from others in order to be successful, John goes the DIY route. YouTube teaches him an erroneous way to open car doors with a tennis ball and how to craft a "bump" key to access the jail's secured elevator system.

In The Next Three Days, Paul Haggis Will Show No Improvement | The Village  Voice

Haggis makes a colossal oversight in not expanding Liam Neeson's Damon Pennington subplot as a resource for John to execute the difficult mission. Then we could at least believe in John's ability to pull it off, and have the experience of hearing from an "expert" about planning every step.

Los próximos tres días | SincroGuia

Instead, Paul Haggis phones in the would-be suspense elements in favor of some heavy emoting from Russell Crowe. "The Next Three Days" ignores its own rules.

Rated R. 113 mins.

2 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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