Tara (Gemma Arterton) and Mark (Dominic Cooper) have been together a number of years, and live at home with two children. While the latter is out working all day, Tara is striving to keep herself entertained, harbouring a desire to take on art as a hobby. It would appear she has everything she needs but can’t find happiness in her life, resentful of her husband, of her children, feeling suffocated and isolated in the process. And so she decides to do something that will change everything – and though it could be deemed a cowardly act, it takes a lot of courage to pull off.
The Escape studiously lingers over the idea that happiness is intangible, and no matter how perfect our lives may be on the surface, that doesn’t necessarily equate to contentment. It’s also an exploration of why we fall out of love – what triggers this emptiness, and how we confront a psychological block which can prevent us from appreciating the ones we share our lives with, almost resenting them for not being perfect, for not being somebody else. All of the above comes with no answers, but Savage doesn’t seek to provide any, he’s merely letting him camera just observe.
It’s the subtlety and nuance to this film which makes it such a compelling feature. It’s not the big shouting matches the protagonists have, it’s the smaller, seemingly innocuous moments that hit home and prove to be the most powerful. Such as when Tara and Mark are on the train home together, looking at one another as though strangers, without that same warmth that would have existed at the very start. There’s no words here – just a vacant glance, but it tells us more than dialogue ever could. It does, however, require talented actors to pull this off, and as far as Arterton and Cooper are concerned, that much is a given – particularly the former, who continues to prove herself as one of the very finest actresses working today.
Cooper too impresses, but is given less to work with here – which is one of the very film criticisms of this endeavour, for we could do with seeing more of Mark’s side of the story. This is Tara’s film, there is no denying that, but his journey too is a fascinating one, as he becomes his own worst enemy, helpless, and unable to do anything to change her mind, despite wanting nothing more.
The scenes the pair share are so captivating, and shot in such naturalistic way as Savage’s directorial techniques shine through in the finished product. You get a real sense for the freedom he allows his actors, both with each other and the with the improvised dialogue they share – to a point where this film feels so intimate that you almost feel guilty even watching.