Year Released: 2015
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan
(R, 101 min.)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense
“All I know is we gotta keep putting 10 steps between us and them. Okay?” Jack Dwyer
Don’t let the PC police keep you away from this fast-paced thriller. If you ever thought your first day on the job was bad, how about taking your whole family half way around the world to a country that has just erupted in a bloody coup?
Director John Erick Dowdle wisely builds the tension from the first scene. Security is high at the gleaming white stucco palace with crisp unformed guards outside and an official drink taster sampling the cocktails inside. The agreement between the President and his English speaking visitor is sealed with a toast and the businessman ushered promptly to his car.
But any pretense of safety drives off with the limo. The coup is so sudden, efficient, and bloody that the head of security saves the brown shirts the trouble of slitting his throat. He does it himself.
Cut to 17 hours earlier with Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) and his family somewhere above the ocean on their way to his new job in this place. Who knows how Wilson would be as a real dad, but his cinematic one is pitch perfect. He is a kind of more hip Mr. Rogers, both teasing and assuring his young daughters Breeze (Claire Geare) and Lucy (Sterling Jerins) that all will be well in their new home.
Of course, by this time, we know better.
This guilty knowledge keeps the tension high, even as things seem more or less fine at first. The little things, like the no show company representative to pick him up at the airport or the absence of cell service may register as mere annoyances to Jack and his family, but not to us. Hamilton (Pierce Brosnan), a half drunk expat Englishman, nods in commiseration in the hotel bar that night.
Jack puts his wife Annie’s (Lake Bell) episode of cowering on the bathroom floor that night to jet lag, but we see it as a premonition. When he apologizes for his failed business start up in Texas and “dragging my family to the other side of the world to start over,” Anne is having none of it. Instead, she sees this apology weak and manipulative.
“I’m sorry, Jack. I can’t comfort you now.”
Somehow it seems he is trying to comfort her, but no matter. The feminist critics love it.
An idyllic early morning walk to get a newspaper – somehow the 5 star hotel doesn’t have any – is filled with local color. The morning markets are piled high with fruit and slabs of meat, some long dead and some still wriggling. A local group of drummers gets a smile and a tip from a bemused Jack.
But just after he purchases his 3-day-old USA Today, things turn ugly, and from here on in neither Jack, nor any one else on the screen on in the theater can catch a breath.
While Jack plays with a brass wind chime, the street fills with soldiers in full riot gear and a machete wielding mob advancing on each other. The camera catches Jack’s claustrophobic escape down the narrow streets as he runs for the safety of his hotel.
Of course, like many other presumed safe havens to come, it is not by any means safe, a fact highlighted by the swift decapitation of some sucker proclaiming his American citizenship just outside. And Jack’s face with his blue-eyed blond grin is captured in a large welcome poster plastered right out there where the mob is getting its Genghis Khan on. Somehow he makes it to the fifth floor where Annie is just getting the kids ready for a dip in the pool.
And that is part of the directing mastery here, the slow unfolding of fearful awareness that radiates outward to serene waters like a pond after a great stone has been heaved into the middle. In fact, the pre-teen rebellious Lucy is nowhere to be found. They cannot round her up and escape to the roof, as a suddenly capable Hammond – Brosnan remembering his 007 roots – tells Jack as he takes care of several bad guys in the stairwell.
Just like one of her tribe detached from the world in headphones, Lucy is swimming deep in the pool, completely unaware of the ruthless mob about to break through the glass doors just beyond her.
Of course, we have to suspend our disbelief from here on in, as somehow, Jack gets her out of the pool, secures the door with a lifesaver, and rushes the whole family to the roof.
Yes, this is a pure adrenaline chase film from here on in, but Jack is no Jason Bourne, trained to superhuman skill, strength, and savage cunning.
He is more like the determined but somewhat hapless Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, someone without a super plan or skill, but just a man trying to save his family.
“All I know is we gotta keep putting 10 steps between us and them. Okay?” Jack tells his family when things get dodgy on the roof.
And yes, unlike Bourne, poor Jack has his family in toe, that and some very heavy guilt baggage he must be feeling in spades. Comparing him, trying to outrun a savage horde with Annie and their 2 girls at his side to the mostly lone operative Bourne, reminds me of that quote about Ginger Rogers and fellow hoofer Fred Astaire:
"Sure he was great, but don't forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, ...backwards and in high heels."
The film also teases us cruelly with false hopes – the sigh of relief as a helicopter comes to the rescue, the old American Embassy mantra, and the safe at last with a gun-toting Hammond and his very able Thai sidekick. No Deus ex machina here.
Jack and his family must save themselves.
And we non-combatants in the audience feel what that must be like. Perhaps that explains why we taste every defeat and each narrow escape so much more than we do when the super heroes are in charge.
The unnamed Southeast Asian country where No Escape is filmed is actually Thailand. And the one-man expat welcoming committee American engineer Jack Dwyer meets at the airport, Pierce Brosnan’s Hammond, seems particularly fond of its adult beverages.
Certainly it isn’t talent that fuels his swaying karaoke performance in the hotel bar that evening. A demur Jack nurses a beer at the bar, perhaps clinging to what he knows as everything else around him is so alien.
But let’s break out of the mold here, even if Jack cannot. I suggest a Thai version of the classic mojito, this one livened up with a Thai supporting cast of Lemongrass, Lime, and Thai Basil.
You can’t go wrong with a drink as delicious as it looks, and we’ve even included a non-alcoholic version for the kiddies.
Gin hâi a-ròi!
Lemongrass, Lime & Thai Basil Mojito
Like most Thai recipes, this drink is also all about balance. I love the fragrant sweetness of the basil and lemongrass, which works perfectly with the tangy lime and the slight bitterness released by the citrus rind during the muddling process. You can also use fresh lime juice (about 1/2 lime per cocktail) instead of muddling the lime slice if you want a tangier drink.
If you want to make this drink non-alcoholic, just skip the rum and add a little extra lemongrass syrup, if you wish.
2 stalks lemongrass
1/4 cup + 2 teaspoons sugar
2 limes, sliced into 8 lime wedges
Large handful fresh Thai basil (also called pepper basil)
8 ounces white rum
Club soda, as required to top up
Ice, to serve
Lemongrass stalks, trimmed (optional, to use as stir sticks)
First, make the lemongrass simple syrup. Chop the lemongrass stalks into 1-inch pieces, and bruise using a mortar and pestle. Place them in a pot with 1 cup of water and 1/4 cup sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the syrup infuse for about 2 hours, or allow to cool and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Strain the syrup, pressing down on the lemongrass stalks to extract maximum flavor. Chill until ready to use. Once the syrup is strained, it will also keep in your fridge for a couple of weeks.
To build each cocktail, arrange 4 cocktail glasses on a work surface and place 1/2 teaspoon sugar in each glass. Add 1 lime slice into each glass along with a handful of Thai basil, and muddle together.
Pour in 2 ounces rum and 2 ounces lemongrass syrup. Top with ice and club soda. Stir and serve.