Who's In It: Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Liam Cunningham, Seu Jorge, Dominic Cooper, Steven Macintosh, Damian Lewis
The Basics: A lifer in a crumbling old British prison learns that his estranged daughter may be dying of a drug overdose. Formerly content to serve his sentence, the drive to make amends on the outside pulls him into an escape plot that winds up taking him on a weirder journey than he had in mind. The present and the past take place simultaneously as flashbacks show how the breakout comes to be, and some major surprises lie along the path to freedom. In other words, don't let anyone spoil the twists and turns for you before you see it.
What's The Deal: The way you know you're watching a great movie full of characters and incidents you've seen a million times before is that for a hundred minutes or so, the movie makes you forget those other million times ever happened. Because you know what a contemporary prison movie is about: The One Good Guy (a Morgan Freeman-y stoic who just wants to do his time and find redemption) crosses paths with the Hothead and the New Guy and the Mental Case and The Really Brutal Homosexual Who Runs Everything and Stabs Other Inmates Whenever He Feels Like It. And maybe they escape and maybe they don't. But the point is that you want to see a fresh and compelling approach that'll make you care about what happens to these lowlifes. Lucky you, here's a precision-engineered-yet-grimy U.K. import that totally satisfies that need.
Oh Hey It's That Guy: Brian Cox plays the man on an escape mission. It's his story. He carries the entire emotional weight of the movie on his shoulders. And he's one of those actors who's been at it for over 40 years but whose name no one ever learns because he's not a Tom Cruise-like movie star. For example, he played the oddly sympathetic pedophile in L.I.E. Did you see that one? No, of course you didn't. But you should because he's great in it. And that's really the way a character actor's career usually goes unless you're Philip Seymour Hoffman or Paul Giamatti. But this guy's beaten down performance here is so good that you ought to get to know him better.
Dear British People Who Make Films, Please Do Us All A Favor: If you're a not fancy lady movie that's set at some Sir This or Dame That's old castle during the Edwardian era where people while away the summer days playing croquet and it's always nearly time for the vicar to arrive for tea, if instead your movie is about poor yobs in the gutter, prison or factory, then please just go ahead and give us the subtitles we need. Because we poor stupid Americans can't understand a single one of your mouth-full-of-Scottish-pebbles words. The good news here, though, is that it's not a dialogue-intensive film in the first place. You'll be okay even if you miss a third of what they're saying.