Daniel Radcliffe returns in another B-movie to add to his seemingly ever-expanding roster. The genre is crime thriller again and this time we turn to a true story for inspiration – that of Tim Jenkin (Radcliffe) and Stephen Lee‘s (Daniel Webber) escape from the infamous Pretoria Central Prison after being handed lengthy sentences for anti-Apartheid ‘terrorist’ activities.
Opening scenes establish the pair’s crimes and trial. However, it feels like there should be more tension or at least contextual buildup here. Instead, the pace is too hurried for us to feel the full impact of what’s happening to the two men and director Francis Annan rushes us to Pretoria within minutes. Only here are our protagonists established a little more clearly, although even then, supporting characters like Denis Goldberg and Leonard Fontaine feel much more nuanced and interesting than the leads. A sense of immediacy continues as the titular escape plan is hatched too quickly. Jenkin and Lee are barely behind bars before they begin plotting their key-forgery scheme. Perhaps this is how events unfolded in reality, but for the sake of the film, surely the narrative could have been crafted otherwise.
Luckily, as scenes progress, Escape unfolds with more care and precision. Tension is carefully spun in several places, particularly in intimate race-against-time moments like the ‘chewing gum’ scene. Radcliffe is also given space to contribute to the suspense in these intricate moments and plays the part with suitable intensity and wide-eyed fear. Again, though, other aspects let the film down. Knocking things off tables can only be used as distractions for guards so many times before it becomes unbelievable, and Radcliffe’s voiceover—used to create the feel of a memoir—is unnecessary and even off-putting at times.
Still, as an escape thriller it’s entertaining. Some second-half set-pieces pull off real excitement and we root for the main characters. Audiences will likely forget about the film soon after viewing, but for its hour-and-three-quarters duration, it’s engaging enough.