There are some themes that always lend themselves well to film. The unbreakable human spirit is one of those themes. Stories of conquering the impossible, of standing up for what’s right, and victory in the face of injustice always make for damn good movies.
ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA illustrates this perfectly. The film is simple. It doesn’t presume to be more than it is. Nevertheless, it’s a fabulous story that is thoughtfully executed into a damn entertaining film.
ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA is written and directed by Francis Annan and stars Daniel Radcliffe, Ian Hart, and Daniel Webber. Set in the apartheid days of South Africa, two political captives attempt the impossible… escaping from the infamous Pretoria Central Prison. It’s a race-against-time and against all odds type story that pulls you in instantly.
It’s also based on the real experiences of Tim Jenkins and Stephen Lee. The pair wrote about their incredible prison break in the book Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison, they had been detained on charges of distributing different pamphlets on behalf of banned organizations. The film recounts their time in prison, as well as the innovative methods by which they plan their amazing escape.
As I mentioned at the outset, ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA isn’t reinventing the wheel when it comes to storytelling. The plot is straightforward and the narrative stays rooted in its path, with precious little deviation. Whether or not this is a strength or a weakness is entirely up to the viewer. On the one hand, character development is limited to the camaraderie the ensemble and leads share. The stakes are high enough, as it is, so the film is more of a deafening flatline than a racing pulse. Again, all of these things are fine and the film entertains regardless but what you get within the first 10 minutes is what you will get for the remainder.
Something that ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA does really well is build tension. The environment of the prison is stressful. You really feel that looming threat: either they will succeed and be free or they will be killed for trying. That anxiety gives the film that heart-pounding quality that makes it a thrill from start to finish. A real joy to watch.
Can I just say how great it is that our favorite boy wizard has fully embraced doing weird cinema? Major props to Daniel Radcliffe for delivering very grounded performances, excellent work, and not being afraid to get a little ugly or weird while doing it. This sentiment rings true for the whole of the ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA ensemble. The performances of the cast are so focused on the escape plot and so rooted in realism that they’re a bit monotonous to watch. Yet, that’s what makes them so good. At every level, the performers are tapping into the source material and delivering truthful accuracy over Hollywood fluff. At least, that’s how it feels.
Don’t expect blockbuster action from ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA. Instead, be ready for a consuming retelling of an incredibly daring feat. The runtime flies by and it isn’t until the credits roll that you realize you’ve been holding your breath the entire time! ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA arrives in theaters on March 6, 2020.
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