Review by Sean Boelman
Co-written and directed by Francis Annan, Escape from Pretoria is a new prison break thriller owing a lot structurally to the classics of the genre, though it is still problematic in its approach. Telling a story that didn’t really need to be heard, this is admittedly an entertaining film, but its existence is entirely unnecessary.
The movie tells the story of the real-life prison break of two political prisoners in Apartheid-era South Africa as they try to escape the infamous Pretoria prison. For the most part, the film follows the pre-established beats of the genre, and although the story is predictable given the fact that it is based on a true story, it is told in a gripping and cinematic way.
That said, the fundamental flaw with this movie is that it is a story that simply didn’t need to be told. With so many stories from black African activists existing during the Apartheid era, why was one of two white men chosen as the one that deserved the screen treatment? The same message that this film contains could have been communicated just as if not more effectively with the story of a black subject.
That isn’t to say that the characters aren’t compelling — they are — but why does this movie seem to almost entirely ignore the element of racism that defined the conflict at its heart? At a few points in the film, it seems like there may be a subplot that will go into the more socially important aspects of the story, only for this to get abandoned.
Annan does a very good job of making the movie compelling and thrilling, but he often resorts to some of the more conventional tricks of the genre. Had this film come out twenty or even ten years ago, it would have been the type of star-driven crowd-pleaser that would likely have been a hit. But in this time, it’s clear that this is stuff that has already been seen.
Daniel Radcliffe plays the lead of the movie, and while he does a good enough job in his role, he doesn’t get the chance to show much emotional range or depth in the film. In the past, Radcliffe has shown that he is able to bring a lot to bizarre roles, but this more by-the-book character doesn’t utilize his talents properly.
On a technical level, Annan’s filmmaking is completely competent, but there is nothing particularly spectacular about it. The way in which the movie is shot is obviously done in order to maximize suspense, and for the most part, it works. Still, it would have been nice had the film earned its suspense in a more natural way, like a more compelling and urgent story.
Escape from Pretoria is entertaining enough for what it is, but one can’t help but feel like it isn’t the story that needs to be told in this day and age. The movie is able to meet the bare minimum in terms of suspenseful storytelling, but not in a way that will allow it to be particularly memorable.
Escape from Pretoria is now available on VOD.