Film Review: Inescapable

This international thriller—sparked by a nice, unexpected Marisa Tomei performance—starts off promisingly but trails off into cheap melodrama.
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A father’s worst nightmare comes true when Adib (Alexander Siddig), a businessman who has transplanted from his native Syria to Toronto, discovers that his daughter Muna (Jay Anstey) has mysteriously disappeared in Damascus. She was a photographer on assignment in Greece when she hopped over to Syria to investigate the country her Dad has always been so secretive about. Adib sneaks back into Syria and tries to enlist the highly questionable aid of Paul, a shady Canadian embassy official (Joshua Jackson, trying pretty successfully to forever shake off the ghost of his Pacey on “Dawson’s Creek”), and other inscrutable government bureaucrats. Adib is also reunited with his former fiancée Fatima (Marisa Tomei), whom he deserted years ago when he made his necessary escape out of the country.

I had initially high hopes for this political thriller, which starts off strong in the tradition of such as Missing and Taken. Recent events in Damascus—not to mention that American woman who disappeared in Turkey—have made Inescapable now more pertinent than ever and I was prepared to get happily caught up in a web of danger and intrigue. But halfway through, when all the plot-setting details are in place and the inevitable menacing violence sets in, the film seriously derails and degenerates into a cheap and bloody affair far below any level of intelligent interest. Writer-director Ruba Nadda (Cairo Time) is much better at intimate emotional scenes between Adib and Fatima than she is with action (often quite clumsily handled) and general elucidation (we never hear exactly why Muna is possibly being held captive).

Early on, I had misgivings about the rather callow performance of Siddig, who, although undoubtedly committed, just did not seem to have enough weight to properly convey an anguished father’s emotions. These doubts were solidified during a sequence in which he finally, in utter desperation, flails about his hotel room, trashing it and emitting screams of angst, as he tries to replace his wedding band on a seriously wounded finger.

As if to make up for the torpid pace of her Cairo Time, the director now goes for a slam-bang kind of attack that possesses more empty chutzpah than sense. She also inserts one of those “Is this corpse Muna or somebody else?” gambits that has a particularly groan-inducing payoff. The aura of low-grade melodrama becomes overwhelming.

About the only good news here is the unexpectedly persuasive performance Tomei gives as a Syrian woman, not only looking the part but managing a highly convincing accent and attitude. At times recalling the great ravaged and world-weary Katina Paxinou, she makes Fatima by far the most interesting character in the movie. She also makes you realize what a long and varied career she has had, and this reviewer salutes both her risk-taking and her ever-surprising range.