Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Get away

Oh my, time flies when I'm not blogging! I've been so busy enjoying the last days of summer and watching movies that I've been neglecting my blog. Well, back to work.

The Great Escape is a fantastic heist film that tells the true story of a group of WWII P.O.W.s who escaped from a Nazi prison camp specifically designed to hold escape artists. The great thing about this film, well one of the great things, is that the escape itself is the plot. Most heist movies have another plot line running and the heist serves to simply move that other plot line forward. Not so in The Great Escape.
We get some lovely character and plot exposition right in the beginning with the Nazi officers discussing the prisoners repeated escape attempts and how this new camp will thwart any new attempts at getting out. We see a few foolhardy attempts at escape right off the bat, but then the big scheme begins to brew. Steve McQueen is the obligatory American bad ass. James Garner brings his real-life P.O.W. experience to his role as The Scrounger. Charles Bronson is the meaty Eastern European Tunnel King with a soft heart. But the shining star in the ensemble cast is Richard Attenborough. If you're like me, you know Richard from Jurassic Park. But here, he's the slick, crafty and much-hyped leader of the Great Escape, Big X. Part of his character development is all the men discussing how they can't wait 'til he gets there and how great he is, so when he finally struts into camp, you're already all-in with this guy. He's like James Bond and Winston Churchill rolled into one.

The set for this movie is an exact replica of the actual prison camp. Produced less than 20 years after the real escape, the filmmakers tried to be as true-to-life as possible and hired several P.O.W.s to act as consultants to ensure authenticity. Some of the facts are fudged, there were many P.O.W.s from countries other than the U.S. and U.K., and the role of the U.S. prisoners are greatly exaggerated, but the rest is all true.

It has everything you want from a heist film. Suspense, action, excitement, and the complicated escape plan is genius. Obstacles are encountered and overcome. The ending, however, is bittersweet. I won't give it away, but suffice to say, this ain't Ocean's Eleven, it's war.

This film didn't win any awards. It wasn't critically acclaimed after its initial release, but its growing popularity has finally given it some well-deserved recognition. If it has one drawback, its that the characters are not very deep. They serve their function as military men committed to their cause, but they don't seem to have many emotions beyond that. We get hints with The Scrounger and The Forger, but that's about it. But it doesn't make the movie fail. It just serves to make them seem brave and larger-than-life.

The Great Escape is a great movie, and clearly influenced many heist movies that followed it. Had it been based around American characters, my guess is that it would be a basic cable staple, but since it's primarily a British film, most Americans haven't gotten the chance to see it. You should.

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