Escape from Alcatraz 1979 ★★★½

Don Siegel really was a great director. Here is a film I found somewhat restricted in plot, but in the hands of a master craftsman it becomes a technical tour-de-force with palpable tension and a visual aesthetic so richly detailed that it leaves you with a distinctly positive impression overall. Now, I'm not calling it a weak story, I just found the characters not as deeply investigated as I would have liked. It's a film structured around their escape, where really it ought to be structured around them. Eastwood and co. offer up fine work in their roles, bringing what they can to their characters with a certain gravelly masculinity. The star of the show is really Bruce Surtees though, whose presence is felt to the extent that before his name came up in the opening credits I was thinking "gosh, this is like a Surtees shot". With the tight spaces of the titular prison, the omnipresent and oppressive bars, the shadows that fill the frame in the dead of night, Surtees lends to the tale a visual poetry that says everything about the yearning for freedom that the narrative itself never manages to. What he does with the crags and contours of Eastwood's face is nothing short of jaw-dropping; one could easily sit back and watch this with the volume muted and, in a way, feel even more of a connection to the character than were it not.

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