A convict with a habit of breaking out of prison, Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood, The Outlaw Josey Wales), is sent to serve the remaining of his life sentence to the Alcatraz Island, known as a escape-proof prison. But Morris is determined to do what no one has been able to do before: escape from the maximum security facility.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“No one has ever escaped from Alcatraz. And no one ever will!”
My dad is a huge Clint Eastwood fan, so Escape from Alcatraz was a movie my family watched on a regular basis. After watching the film again for the first time in many years, I was happy to discover that it holds up to my childhood memories — it’s a compelling, absorbing fact-based prison drama with Eastwood at his restrained best.
Richard Tuggle’s (Tightrope) script is partially based on the 1963 non-fiction book of the same name by J. Campbell Bruce about the legendary 1962 jailbreak from the Alcatraz Island. Tuggle is probably responsible for the film’s biggest strength: The movie shows, patiently and realistically, the monotony of life behind bars.
Despite what the presence of action-star Eastwood might suggest, Escape from Alcatraz is more of a mood piece than a thrill-a-minute recreation of the 1962 prison break. It’s done in a low-keyed manner. Director Don Siegel’s minimalist style serves the story well. It’s a superbly-crafted movie that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go.
One of the most interesting things about the movie is its lack of moral grandstanding. Yes, we see the lack of humanity in the penitentiary, but you never get the feeling that the film wants to say something substantive about the criminal justice system.
I did think that movie should have been longer. I thought that the actual escape happened too fast, and the film ends abruptly. But none of these shortcomings hamper the film’s overall impact. Escape from Alcatraz is an intelligent and involving drama, and this is coming from someone who isn’t a huge fan of prison movies.
As I mentioned before, Eastwood is splendidly understated. Because he is playing a real person, life-long criminal Frank Morris, this is one of Eastwood’s most atypical performances. There are moments when you are sure he is going to get up and slap someone, but Eastwood never does that, and that’s interesting to watch.
The supporting cast is good, too. Patrick McGoohan (Braveheart) somehow manages to infuse life into the admittedly cardboard role of the Warden. Fred Ward (The Right Stuff) is Eastwood’s partner-in-crime. I particularly liked Roberts Blossom’s (Deranged) performance as a convict who loves painting. You have to pay careful attention, or you’ll miss Danny Glover (The Color Purple) as an inmate.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Escape from Alcatraz marked the fifth and final teaming of director Don Siegel and actor Clint Eastwood. The other four films are Coogan’s Bluff (1968), Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), The Beguiled (1971) and Dirty Harry (1971), and there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. Escape from Alcatraz is a wonderful bookend to one of Hollywood’s most fruitful creative collaborations. Color, 111 minutes, Rated PG.