As far as stylish jailbreak action is concerned, Escape from Pretoria fully delivers the goods.
Escape from Pretoria Synopsis
In 1979, African National Congress (ANC) activists Tim Jenkin and Stephen Lee are sentenced to lengthy imprisonment in Pretoria Central Prison for sedition against South Africa. Rather than despair, though, the duo immediately formulates a plan for escape. They ultimately succeed in one of the most audacious prison breaks in modern history.
Cinemas only just reopened in Singapore this week; on July 13, to be specific. Escape from Pretoria is thus the first movie I’ve watched in a cinema in three-and-a-half months. Prior to the shutdown, I haven’t gone without a visit to the cinema for more than a fortnight, in near 20 years.
It’s more or less a befitting return to the big screen experience for me, my only complaint being the story focuses too heavily on the breakout, with too little of the atrocities leading to the events being told. Once again, Daniel Radcliffe demonstrates he has the acting proficiency for heavier roles, even if his South African accent is probably a little too overcooked to some viewers.*
The stylish use of close-ups and strained perspectives also generates a consistent atmosphere of tension, a subtle terror that’s further magnified by the amplification of every knock, step, and bang of that vast prison complex. Particularly “distressful” for me was a certain gum-sticking sequence in the middle of the show. The slimy close-up that was the gum was absolutely revolting to look at. But yet you can’t stop watching, because so much hinges on it.
Coming back to the story/premise, it’s only fair of me to highlight that the decades-long struggle against apartheid wasn’t exactly sidelined. My issue was more a case of, it was narrated rather than depicted. With Escape from Pretoria ultimately a jailbreak thriller, I suppose this was probably unavoidable; that is, without the movie being too heavy or discordant.
Naturally, to sustain the suspense, there were marked simplifications of the important historical characters of Stephen Lee and Denis Goldberg too. On the character of Lee, he was largely reduced to being a “vase.” Daniel Webber really did little more than to look suave.
* There will also always be the question of, why wasn’t a South African actor chosen for the role?