ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA – movie review

ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA
Entertainment One
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Francis Annan
Screenwriter: Francis Annan, L.H. Adams, Karol Griffiths, from Tim Jenkin’s book “Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison”
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ian Hart, Daniel Webster
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/4/20
Opens: March 6, 2020

Whenever I need to have a key made I go to Bruno’s hardware down the block. Half the time the keys do not work. I twist and I turn and practically break the fragile metal. What this country needs is not more MBA’s but some good, reliable locksmiths. Now Tim Jenkin can make keys for me any time. He’s a real live character played by Daniel Radcliffe in the prison thriller “Escape from Pretoria.” He is not only a crackerjack locksmith but an author, having written the book by a similar name in 2005. I cannot tell whether Francis Annan’s movie is based closely on the contents of the book or simply inspired by the heroic plot—especially since on Amazon, the book costs $899.99. And that’s the paperback! Perhaps an upcoming movie about rare books “The Booksellers” would tell us why.

The film which is virtually bereft of women focuses on the leadership of Tim Jenkin (Daniel Radcliffe), who together with Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber) gets into trouble with white-dominated regime in South Africa when apartheid was the norm. Fifteen percent of the popular were white but dominated the 85% of people with color. The grip on the country was resisted by the African National Congress, under which Nelson Mandela eventually got elected president and now stands as one of history’s great heroes.

Some folks might be surprised to note that the ANC was a movement that enjoyed the membership of several white people, considered by the apartheid government to be traitors to their race. For example: when Jenkin and Lee set off an unusual string of “bombs” in Pretoria that liberate not explosives but reams of paper announcing the manifesto of the congress, they are caught and receive stiff sentences in a jail that was not quite as comfortable as the prisons in Norway. Jenkin gets 12 years as the leader, and his pal Lee receives eight. Inside the jail the two meet up with other whites involved in wresting the South African government away from the white leaders. These are people who from the moment they were beaten were determined to escape, notwithstanding the prospect of a sentence of another twenty-five years plus the potential to be tortured.

Theirs was a unique method. Jenkin, apparently graced with spatial skills, drew blueprints for not just one key but a successive battery of them that would lead them to the street and freedom. They keys were made of wood. As the plot thickens, the initial attempts to fit these keys into the doors would fail. Sometimes a piece of evidence would fall to the floor outside Jenkin’s reach, so we in the audience sit and hold out breaths as does Jenkin to hide the evidence from the regularly scheduled checks by the guards.

Guards were awfully mean, and not just the warden (Paul Harvey) who must be addressed as “Captain” by the inmates. They appear to hold a special animosity to whites who help the blacks.

All action takes place in 1979, but if the prisoners only had the patience to wait until 1994 when apartheid fell apart, Mandela would have freed all, a welcome break especially for Denis Goldberg (Ian Hart) who was serving four life sentences. Behind his large aviator type glasses fashionable at the time, Daniel Radcliffe is able to free himself without needing the magic he embraced at the Hogwarts School. He exudes a tension that should resonate with the movie audience in a film that’s not much on dialogue but which, guaranteed, will have you keyed up.

101 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

THE MUSTANG – movie review

THE MUSTANG

Focus Features
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre
Screenwriter: Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman Brock
Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern, Gideon Adlon, Connie Britton
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 2/4/19
Opens: March 15, 2019

In Frank Loesser’s musical “Guys and Dolls,” Nicely sings “Future for Tinhorns,” which opens “I got the horse right here/The Name is Paul Revere/And here’s a guy that says/That the weather’s clear/ Can do, Can do.” Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre’s movie “The Mustang” has to do obviously with horses, but the “can do” in this case rides on whether a particular convict in a North Nevada penitentiary can succeed in breaking a particularly fearsome wild mustang.

The Mustang Movie Poster

“The Mustang” directed by de Clermont-Tonnerre—whose familiarity with prisons led her to make “Rabbit” which finds a female prisoner entrusted with the care of a small animal—now broadens her sphere. No longer dealing with females who need to connect with animals for their therapy, she turns her attention to a detention center holding violent criminals. Though too many of our prisons do nothing to deserve the euphemism “correctional institution,” this Nevada center connects with a program of the Federal Department of Land Management. Our government believes that wild horses cannot continue to roam the West in unlimited numbers. They multiply, doubling their numbers every four years. Allegedly there is not enough foliage or even water to support them, therefore they are culled to allow for healthy animals. Or that’s our government’s story. However the reasons for the roundups are not revealed in this film, making the audience wonder how much is simply a desire for the government to make money auctioning them off. In this case, the horses are expected to be sold at auction if and when they are domesticated by prisoners—who in turn, we hope, will become changed people with their violent urges “corrected.”

Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts is at the center of the action as Roman Coleman, head shaved, in the Nevada Correctional Institution for a violent crime that is revealed later when his pregnant daughter Martha (Gideon Adlan) visits him, demanding that he turn over for sale the home that she shares with him. With a demeanor that might make audiences confuse him with Dwayne Johnson, Schoenaerts opens the dialogue on a scene with the prison psychologist and anger-management specialist (Connie Britton), whose favorite question is “How much time passed between your thinking of doing a crime and actually doing it?” (Seconds, is the typical answer; a fraction of a second in one case.)

Ruben Impens’s lenses reveal a fantastic creation of an actual roundup with long takes and closeups as helicopters maneuver a gathering of mustangs. They are then locked up in tight quarters, slamming against the walls, an apt metaphor for the appalling condition of the human prisoners Coleman is not a big talker, preferring to remain in solitary because he is “not good with people.” He begins to open up when assigned by Myles (Bruce Dern) to a program of training wild horses. .

Myles assigns Coleman to break one crazy mustang, believing that Coleman has some affinity for the animal. With the help of Henry (Jason Mitchell), a fellow inmate who appears to love the outdoor work he’s doing, Coleman goes step by step, leading the horse this way and that, until human and animal develop a bond. Having read an article in an equestrian magazine dealing with an 18th century marquis, he names the animal Marquis. Coleman has come a ways since the violent crime he committed twelve years previous, though while first training Marquis, he is so frustrated with the lack of response that he punches the animal so hard that Marquis is on the ground—knocked out—to Myles’ fury.

In addition to Schoenaerts’s terrific performance—we don’t know to what extent he is involved with riding the horse and falling from him and where the stunt people come in—we in the audience become enlightened further to the terrible conditions of American prisons. The cells are small. Coleman shares a cell with a toilet, no cover, and no door to afford a minimum of privacy. We long to show the appropriate authorities in our government the movie “Where To Invade Next, which illustrates Norway’s penitentiaries which critics trash as being too “luxurious,” where each inmate has an apartment with a stove and knives. Yet predictably, Norway has among the lowest rates of recidivism anywhere. We are also privy to the horrendous way our government rounds up “excess” wild horses, ultimately to be auctioned off. Some are allegedly given to the border patrol, others will wind up in Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouses.

As a critic with Variety magazine has stated, the picture is only partly about a convict who becomes a horse whisperer but is more about a horse that is a convict whisperer.

96 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+