Friday, February 22, 2008

Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

Escape from Alcatraz

Seldom do reviewers agree on ratings for films they watch, but for this one, the vote is in and it is unanimous. Escape from Alcatraz is a winner.

Director Don Siegel is pitch perfect from beginning to end. Many reviewers who have been to Alcatraz comment on the realism of this film. Siegel gives us an inside look at what it might have been like to be imprisoned on "the rock." From the black hole of solitary confinement to the painfully small individual cells of the prisoners, Alcatraz was a nasty place meant for only the nastiest criminals.

One of these prisoners is Frank Morris, expertly played by Clint Eastwood, who is transferred to Alcatraz, gets into a fight with an inmate who wants to make him his "punk," and spends time in the black hole. When he gets out of solitary, Morris begins to plan his escape. Several reviewers comment on the fact that Hollywood does not get these facts straight, but I didn't much care. I was pulled very quickly into Morris's plans and then the actual mechanics of the breakout, which were genuinely interesting and toward the end, had me sitting at the edge of my chair as I waited with suspense to see how the story would end.

The escape is obviously central to the entire plot, but the life of prisoners at Alcatraz is also dramatized expertly by Don Siegel. The warden, Patrick McGoohan, is aloof and professional, but he has a mean streak, which makes life harder than it needs to be on the rock. Frank Morris is smart enough not to get mad, but to get even, and this he does with three other inmates who assist him in the breakout. The warden and his guards are constanly on the alert for any suspicious behavior and we hold our breath from time to time as the escape plan is almost detected.

At last the time comes and we go step by step with Morris and two of his crew as they head for the icy waters surrounding Alcatraz. The fourth member of the crew hesitated and was left behind. This appears to follow the real-life events as mentioned by other reviewers.

Did Morris and his buddies successfully navigate the treacherous waters surrounding Alcatraz? I'll leave that question unanswered. Viewers can decide for themselves.

What is certain, at least to the reviewers of, is that Escape from Alcatraz is a well-made, highly suspenseful film from beginning to end, and it is one of Clint Eastwood's best roles -- that's saying something. Highly recommended! By Russell Fanelli

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