Streaming Spotlight: great escapes

How to break out of prison, movie style

by Jennie Kermode

As plans for ending lockdown and gradually getting society back to normal come and go, we know that a lot of you are feeling frustrated – but you know that plenty of people in the movies have it worse. That’s why we decided to shine this week’s spotlight on films about escapes. There are a lot of great ones to choose from, and it was difficult leaving out favourites like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Anything For Her, but we think you’ll agree that this list gives you some great entertainment to choose from as you look forward to enjoying a little more freedom yourself.

Chicken Run
Chicken Run

Chicken Run - Google Play, YouTube

Amber Wilkinson writes: War PoW films like the Great Escape get a feathered makeover in this family adventure - which marked Nick Park and Peter Lord's step up from Wallace and Gromit shorts to feature-length films. Much of the secret of the success of Aardman films is their obvious love of the original movies they are drawing on for their comedy pastiche and handle their familiar plot beats and characters with care. In this animated adventure, a PoW camp is swapped out for Tweedy's Farm, where chickens show bravery in the face of the impending pie crust, as Ginger (Julia Sawalha) persuades American rooster Rocky (Mel Gibson) to help them get the pluck out. All the trademark Aardman stuff is here, from the culture clash between the very British characters and Rocky to the fiendish contraption the farmers use to turn the birds into pies and the intricate plan the birds hatch to escape.

The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption - SkyGo, NowTV

Most Stephen King stories suffer from weak endings. This film, based on one of his novellas, gained cult status because of its ending, and whilst we don’t wish to spoil it if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth noting that there are little clues to what’s coming all the way through. This is important because there’s also a great deal of brutality, including sexual violence. At the centre of it is Tim Robbins as Andy, a man determined to serve his time usefully, trying to improve conditions for his fellow prisoners and slowly, very slowly, setting in motion an elaborate plan to bring abusive members of the staff to justice. The questions that director Frank Darabont ultimately wants you to ask is why he didn’t escape sooner, and that’s when you need to drop some of the assumptions that people make about the central character and take another look at the title. There’s more than one kind of nightmare that Andy needs to break free from.

Escape From New York
Escape From New York

Escape From New York - Amazon, Google Play, Apple TV, YouTube

Would you go into a prison knowing that you’d end up all alone battling to get out? Kurt Russell’s iconic former Special Forces soldier Snake Plissken isn’t given a lot of choice. it’s that or rot in a hole on a bank robbery rap, and the prison he’s going into is, as the title suggests, a whole abandoned city, where the President has gone missing. Like many of John Carpenter’s works, this is the story of a working class man pushed into unfamiliar territory, accompanied by a simple yet highly distinctive score and shot with an elegance rarely seen in this type of genre work. With the likes of Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton and Lee Van Cleef – not to mention Isaac Hayes in a pink Cadillac –among the supporting cast, it has a lot to grab your attention. There are no guards in this prison but there are plenty of hazards and no shortage of thrills for the audience.

Le Trou
Le Trou

Le Trou - Amazon

Amber Wilkinson writes: French director Jacques Becker had already worked on one hugely influential "escape" film years before making his own classic - having been assistant director on Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion (also available to stream). Becker's gripping prison break film is not only rooted in the true story of José Giovanni's escape from Paris' La Santé Prison - with the writer helping to adapt his own book for the screen - but also stars Jean Keraudy, who was one of Giovanni's would-be fellow escapees. The taut plot revolves around the plans of a quartet of inmates to escape, who find their plan complicated by the arrival of a fifth criminal in their cell. More recent prison break film Escape From Pretoria (also on Amazon) made a virtue of the small details of the breakout and the director was following in strong footsteps as, here, we see everything from the creation clever toothbrush "periscope" to the sheer physicality of the effort needed to break through the prison floor or a wall, with Becker generating a constant sense of clammy dread as we are only too aware of the close proximity of the guards.

Get Out
Get Out

Get Out - Chili, Amazon, Google Play, Apple TV

Jordan Peele’s blistering directorial début, which draws on classic science fiction traditions but is absolutely up to the minute, presents the viewer with several layers of trap to try and escape from. As the opening sequence reminds us, simply being a young black man in a white supremacist society means it could be necessary to escape from a pursuer at any time, but for Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), life seems pretty sweet. He’s happy with his white girlfriend and not too worried about getting along with her parents – until, that is, a little incident with a teacup which takes him to an unexpected lace. All is not what it seems and the danger here goes beyond the physical. Though he will still need to run and fight in order to follow that titular advice, there are also psychological and emotional hurdles to be overcome in a film that blends black comedy with sharp social observation.

Escape From Pretoria
Escape From Pretoria

Escape From Pretoria - Amazon Prime

Great escapes take place in real life as well as in fiction, and sometimes there are more than individual lives at stake. Back in 1978, South Africa enforced the brutal repression of its black population by taking a zero tolerance approach to any kind of internal critique. This resulted in the jailing of the men whose story is told in this film – most notably young researcher Tim Jenkin, played here by Daniel Radcliffe, who clearly relishes having the change to engage with such an interesting role. In order to escape, he had his friends had to use prison workshop machinery to manufacture the tools they needed and sneak out of their cells night after night to test them. Director Francis Annan told us that he hoped the film would help people who grew up after the Apartheid era to understand what it meant. He really ratchets up the tension in this nail-biting thriller.

Cube
Cube

Cube - Starz

When a group of strangers wake up to find themselves in a cube-shaped room with portals leading out from every face, they have a lot of things to consider, but the first priority for most of them is finding a way out. This proves to be more challenging than expected because some of the rooms contain deadly traps. Finding a safe route involves making mathematical calculations, and for that they need to work together, despite their considerable differences, in a film whose number-themed puzzles go far beyond the obvious and are full of jokes for the initiated. Even if you hate maths, you’ll find this a snappy little thriller which asks questions and presents challenges on a number of levels. There have been several attempts to follow it up but nothing comes close to this, one of the few films out there which can be honestly described as a true original.

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