Behold – my first genuinely brief(ish) review.
The premise is fairly straightforward –Russell Crowe plays a schlubby college teacher bringing up his son alone in present-day Pittsburgh after his wife (Elizabeth Banks) is incarcerated, apparently wrongly, for murder. After the final appeal is rejected and it becomes clear that Banks will be serving a full life sentence, Crowe hatches a plan to bust her out of the jail and leave the country.
It’s a remake of 2007 French production, Pour Elle, and mulches a few classic movie tropes – the miscarriage of justice, the caper, the policier, the ordinary person forced into extraordinary action – to create a tense and watchable thriller, with a few nice touches that raise it above the average. Even though the story does get a bit silly (and holey) at times and a few sequences could probably have been shortened or left out entirely to slim down the story – it does take a while to get to the heart-pounding breakout denouement – it is well paced with credible dialogue and unobtrusive direction.
The casting is interesting too. For me Crowe is at his best in non-macho roles – The Insider, A Beautiful Mind – and he is good here as a schlubby father distinctly lacking in street smarts (though he does revert to type in a few gun-totin’ action scenes). Banks, while an unusally attractive lifer, is also believable and Director Paul Haggis has clearly allowed her to be creative in her interpretation of the role.
The supporting cast is strong, with notable cameos from The RZA as (inevitably) a shady criminal, and Liam Neeson as a veteran escapee laying down the principles of prison-breaking to Crowe (NB - it really is a cameo from Neeson; his name has been rather fraudulently plastered over the adverts and TV spots).
And I doubt whether Pittsburgh – practically a byword for rust-belt decay – has ever looked better; Haggis makes the most of the city’s bridges, hills and subways, rooting the film with a solid geographical identity that is crucial for escape-thrillers.
In short, it’s gripping and well-played, if a little implausible at times and at two hours maybe a bit longer than a straightforward thriller should be. Nevertheless, a solid film that is more entertaining than most reviews would suggest.