The origins of this smart and tough British prison escape thriller lie in a short film, 2004’s Get The Picture, which writer-director Rupert Wyatt made with actor Brian Cox as a showcase for his evidently considerable talents. Cox subsequently suggested Wyatt write a feature with him in mind, and the story the filmmaker came up with was that of a lifer locked up in a brutal south London prison who masterminds a daring escape. Sixty years ago in Hollywood, Spencer Tracy would have played the part of Frank Perry – an institutionalised hard man who rediscovers the will to buck the system when he finds out his beloved daughter is killing herself with drugs. Cox brings to Perry the kind of hard-bitten attitude underpinned by a poignant emotional vulnerability for which the Golden Age star was admired.
Cox’s excellent performance as the leader of a gang of five convicts (an almost unrecognisable Joseph Fiennes among them) gives real heart to a cracking but grim film. Perhaps taking his lead from the kind of no-nonsense B-movies with which Tracy began his career (20,000 Years in Sing Sing, for example), Wyatt’s film is paired-down to the point of being virtually dialogue-free for long stretches. The breakout itself, a nightmare crawl through dank subterranean tunnels that starts and finishes the film, is conducted largely in silence, while flashbacks filling in problems encountered during the build-up to the bid for freedom contrast with the din of prison life.
General release from Fri 20 Jun.