Incredibly intense and engaging, Escape from Pretoria is a juicy thriller based on true events about one hell of a prison break. It features a phenomenal cast led by Daniel Radcliffe who seems to be able to smell these awesome true-life roles. I still remember his powerful performances in both Jungle and Kill Your Darlings. Right from the opening scene, this movie grabs you and doesn’t let go until the end. There’s no pretentious preaching or prolonged scenes of torture as this surreal story unfolds the eyes of everyone are on the prize. We’re thrown into a cruel, unjust and simply horrific world of South Africa during Apartheid.
This was one of the most despicable political systems ever devised, racially segregating South Africa for almost forty fucking years. All in front of the eyes of the entire world who did almost nothing to stop it. The amount of suffering, daily abuse and injustice that people of color had to experience during that time is unmeasurable. Only things that happened during WWII come close although you could argue that in some ways this was the ultimate defeat of humanity in front of racism and hatred. I still can’t go over the fact that it lasted so long and that it took an international effort from a huge amount of people to end it.
It is the year of our lord Satan 1979 and South Africa is already in its third decade of cracking down on anyone who opposes Apartheid. They want to keep the country segregated and are willing to do everything and anything to those who go against them. Tim Jenkin and Stephen Lee are two white guys who cannot stand this injustice anymore and are risking their lives doing anti-apartheid missions. During one of them, they are caught and soon sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Two of them, however, have other plans…
Escape from Pretoria is one of the most nerve-wracking and suspenseful movies I have seen in a long time. By the time it’s over you will be wondering where the time went. With a runtime of just over 100 minutes, it’s also one hell of a debut for young director Francis Annan. Set in South Africa and filmed in South Australia, the visual style of the movie is very appealing and sleek. I loved the saturated colors and that hazy vibe. The camera work is stellar, something that’s especially hard to do when you’re dealing with closed environment movies.
You would think that if you’ve seen one prison break movie you’ve seen them all but that’s clearly not the case. Especially since this movie is based on true events. And every prison break is a bit different from the other. Recently, I watched the miniseries Escape at Dannemora, which also features a crazy escape story that really happened. Starring Benicio Del Toro, Patricia Arquette and Paul Dano, I recommend you check it out if you’re looking for more of the same. The same goes for Papillon (the original, of course), Celda 211 and Le trou. And let’s not forget District 9, a very poignant and visually impressive science fiction masterpiece set in South Africa.
Director: Francis Annan
Writers: Francis Annan, L.H. Adams, Tim Jenkin, Karol Griffiths
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Daniel Webber, Ian Hart, Mark Leonard Winter, Nathan Page, Grant Piro, Lenny Firth, Lliam Amor, Adam Tuominen
Fun Facts: The chisel used at Door 10 in the film is the actual chisel used in the escape. Tim Jenkin had kept it through the years and lent it to the production.