The Escape Artist starts with a well dressed young boy, the son of the great escape artist Harry Masters, issuing a challenge to a newspaper editor. He claims to be able to escape from a prison cell within an hour – a challenge they gladly accept.
The film then skips back to why the young Danny, played superbly by Griffin O’Neal, has issued such a challenge. It all revolves around the wallet Danny stole from Stu, a wallet that belongs to Stu’s father, the corrupt Mayor Leon Quinones. What then ensues is a story of trickery and tense safe-cracking and escapes. Danny is employed by Stu to steal some incriminating files that would see his father arrested.
Each scene is beautifully shot whilst the quiet soundtrack lets the suspense or the comedy of a scene play out uninterrupted. Caleb Deschanel brings David Wagonor’s book to life under the watchful eye of executive producer Francis Ford Coppola. There’s laughs aplenty, laughs that are generally emanated by the beguiling character Stu played by the great Raul Julia. His juvenile and slightly crazy antics are entertaining and fun to watch.
This movie finds a perfect balance between comedy and tension. The beautifully shot scene where Danny is cracking the safe works amazingly. The close-ups, the quiet music and the low lights all lead to a tense moment where he is hiding in an office trying to break into a safe to get some incriminating evidence on the corrupt mayor. The audience sweats more than Danny when they witness this. There is a moment of triumph when he does get into it.
Another heart-poundingly tense scene is that of the water chamber escape. Danny tries to recreate a stunt performed by his father to impress a young lady. Finally he is pulled to safety by his uncle but in the preceding moments of panic, the audience shares Danny’s fears.
The story is engaging and mesmerizing and has the audience guessing its way through right until the end. It feels like a stage magic show whilst you watch the drama unfold. The Escape Artist is a film that can be enjoyed by everyone. The young and the old can find delight in its tricks and comedy – it has the audience laughing as much as it has their heart racing.
Best line: As Danny and Stu walk through the mayor’s office Stu says – ‘smells like voters in here’.
Best scene: The end scene where Danny is hiding from Stu in a postbox. A police officer then shows up and Stu couldn’t look any crazier talking to a post box.