DVD Review – The Escape Artist
The Escape Artist, produced by Francis Ford Coppola is a tale of a young boy wanting to clear his Fathers name. But is it the family classic it strives to be?
TITLE – THE ESCAPE ARTIST YEAR – 1982 DIRECTOR – CALEB DESCHANEL CAST – RAUL JULIA, GRIFFIN O’NEAL AND DESI ARNEZ WRITERS – MELISSA MATHISON, DAVID WAGONER
The Escape Artist feels much like it is just an out line of a film that is yet to be made, it feels like it could be much more fantastical than it is. Based on a novel by David Wagoner it is a story of a street-wise kid, Danny Masters, who runs away from his Grandmothers house hoping to become a famous magician and clear his Fathers name form a nameless crime he committed.
Griffin O’Neal is in the lead role here, and he puts in a cracking turn as the plucky, self reliant, and old before his time child. He is weary of all adults, and he is an absolute master of card trick, sleight of hand and juggling. He wants to keep his family’s name alive. His Father was the worlds second best escape artist, second only to Houdini, don’t ya know.
While Danny has the makings of a perfect kid-hero. The movie that is made around him is way too safe and tentative. Not a fantasy, not an adventure, not a comedy, not really anything. The responsibility of this may well be at the feet of Caleb Deschanel, who before this film was a highly acclaimed cameraman, on his first outing as director. Or it could be the fault of the writers, Melissa Mathison and Stephen Zito.
The set design of the film feels like a mess. But I am assuming this is an intentional choice. The cars are all from different time periods, the sets feel like they are from the 1920s yet the costumes look like pre second world war. I believe this is to make the viewer feel more like they are in a fantasy, that is timeless. Unfortunately it just looks a mess and oddball.
The narrative is even more of a mess than the set. The film starts with Danny challenging the police to a challenge – he will escape from a locked cell even though he is leg and hand cuffed. This then turns into a very long flash back that is supposed to show us the reason for this challenge, but actually it doesn’t. We are then scooted further forward for a series of adventures that are sometimes funny and sweet, sometimes not. Making it one of the hardest films I have seen in a long time to follow.
The performance of Griffin O’Neal, who carries the bulk of the story, is the driving force of the film. His performance is nothing short of captivating. He reminded me of how Haley Joel-Osment was when he was at his peak. Raul Julia appeals with a mix of offbeat and slightly sadistic humour and a disposition which makes you never quite sure whether to love or loathe his character, but guarantees your attention. None of the other actors/characters are given enough time to flesh out their existence sufficiently to consider them more than just filler, regardless of the part they play in the proceedings.
But that aspect, and other flaws, are never a problem as the slow build up of the story and the interaction between Danny and Stu transcend the issues that would bury many other films, making this a surprisingly entertaining experience.
[starreview tpl=16 size='30']
THE ESCAPE ARTIST IS RELEASED ON DVD IN UK ON 7TH NOVEMBER BY STUDIOCANAL
Have you seen this film? Did you enjoy it more than I? Comment below…