Con Air (1997)
Con Air was Simon West’s (Expendables II, The Mechanic) first movie. You can see why he was chosen to direct an action ensemble, because that’s what Con Air is. Great concept, the cons wait until they’re airborne to enact the bust-out. The majority of the movie takes place in the small confines of the plane yet it doesn’t wear itself out. Malkovitch, Buscemi, Cage and Rhames all work off of one another. Hans Gruber wouldn’t look out of place on this passenger list. Come to think of it, Con Air has one of the best soundtracks ever, minus the wishy washy pop number at the end. Kinda reminds us that Cage can do action too. A sequel starring John Cusack about cons taking over an airport was canned after 9/11.
There he goes again, Steve McQueen rebelling and trying to break out of someone’s prison. McQueen once said; “In my own mind, I’m not sure that acting is something for a grown man to be doing”. Them theres man words, elevating McQueen into the Bronson-sphere and making his movies compulsory viewing. Especially when the McQueen movie in question deals with man business, such as breaking out of the joint. Or Devils Island in this case. The system tries everything to break him, but McQueen is undaunted and tries everything to break out. Even hiding among lepers. This movie is about sheer depressing, grim hopelessness versus Steve McQueen. Steve McQueen wins.
Midnight Express (1978)
When they talk about prison break movies, The Shawshank Redemption gets thrown around a lot. But this movie is at least the equal of it. Brad Davis is busted smuggling a small amount of hash out of Turkey for personal use, then made an example of by being thrown into the deepest, darkest shit-hole imaginable – that would be a 1970’s Turkish prison – for 30+ years. After that hideous tone has settled in, Brad Davis blows the likes of Tim Robbins’ mumbling accountant off the screen in terms of raw acting. The message is simple, Davis is not going to stay in hell for 30 years and wants out. There’s no preaching, no washy sentimentality, just a dude going through the wringer and overcoming. Tension, that’s what the Shawshank lacked that this movie does not.
Rescue Dawn (2006)
I used to like Christian Bale, even thought he was a pretty good actor. Until he became the cunt of the ages, a mother and sister beating (I’m not sure that wasn’t a publicity stunt) entitled prima donna. Before all that though, Bale made movies like this. Bale is shot down during the Vietnam War and taken hostage by Charlie. Bale is planning his escape from day one. Like the best escape movies, the viewer is let in on the plans of the inmates (POWs) and how they intend on getting out. It’s the small details that matter; conserving food for the road, taking note of guard movements, makeshift weapons, keeping morale in check etc. This is an exceptionally efficient movie. 1) Capture. 2) Escape 3) Reabsorption/Duty. We don’t need or want anything else. It looks fucking beautiful too.
Escape From Alcatraz (1979)
This is the best prison break out movie ever. Where other such movies might be tempted to contemplate the universe, add washy voice overs and make friends for life in the first 20 minutes, in this, Eastwood is already too busy digging a hole in the fucking wall. No time for that bullshit with Clint. Not once does it look like the prison is going to break Eastwood, in fact Eastwood is so stern and so cool, it’s the prison itself which doesn’t stand a chance – from the first five minutes that is obvious. Again, the real meat is in the details. Eastwood is clever and the film shows his thoughts in action, such as the progressive construction of a boat, there’s comparatively little talk. Occasionally, he breaks the silence by revealing an ingenious tactic or by beating a would-be rapist half to death in the showers. This is practical, pragmatic and to the point. If Eastwood isn’t enough, one of the break out team is Fred fucking Ward.