No Escape is principally a fantasy film for husbands who are failures. A lot of men feel they have let their wives down, and in this movie, Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) has done so in a big way. From the dialogue we learn that he used to be in business for himself, but he eventually had to give that up. So, he takes a job with Cardiff, a water company, requiring that he relocate his family to some unnamed country, which would have to be either Laos or Cambodia, which means he and his family are strangers in a strange land, where they don’t speak the language and where the food being sold in the marketplace would cause you to lose your appetite. They check into a hotel where the phone doesn’t work, some of the lights don’t come on, and there is nothing but snow on television. And this looks like the best hotel in the whole city. It all proves to be too much for Jack’s wife Annie (Lake Bell), and in the middle of the night he finds her sitting on the floor of the bathroom crying. In other words, if things had proceeded normally from this point, this would have been a movie of misery, probably resulting in Annie’s taking their two children back to the United States before long and filing for divorce.
But then there is a coup, the prime minister is assassinated, everyone in the American embassy is killed, and the police are overrun by mobs of revolutionaries, whose ultimate goal is to slaughter every Caucasian foreigner in the country, especially employees of Cardiff. As horrible as that sounds, it gives Jack a chance to redeem himself, as he leads his family this way and that through one melodramatic situation after another, even to the point of killing a man who was threatening them. And he does this killing in full view of his wife. And she thought her husband was a failure. Hah!
On the plane coming over, they met Hammond (Pierce Brosnan). Given Brosnan’s James Bond persona, we are not surprised when he turns out to be a British spy. But he is not just a spy who is getting along in years. He is a corrupt version of James Bond. Now that the Cold War is over, his services are put to ends more pecuniary than patriotic. After coming to the rescue of Jack and his family, he confesses to being the ultimate cause of the revolution. His job is to get countries to borrow money for projects, such as waterworks, knowing that they will never be able to pay back the loans. Being hopelessly in debt, the countries have no choice but to let corporations like Cardiff come in and make big profits at the expense of the impoverished citizens. Normally, things work out well, and the citizens don’t even realize how it all happened. But this time, things did not work out well, and so the people have risen up to take their country back. In other words, Hammond continues, they are trying to protect their families just as Jack is trying to protect his.
That’s cute. But Hammond’s explanation of what is going on comes across as a little bit forced and artificial. Even if Hammond’s explanation were true of how things work in the third world, his flippant attitude is not realistic. Most people try to justify what they are doing. A real life Hammond would have tried to say that he was ultimately helping the people of the country, and that the profits made by Cardiff were just one more way in which the free-enterprise system works for the greater good. But one gets the feeling that this more nuanced approach, which would have allowed us to gradually see through his self-deceiving justification, would have taken too much time. So, the scriptwriters had Hammond just blurt it all out with no apologies. We get a two-minute information dump, and that’s that. Then it’s back to kill or be killed.
Speaking of which, the unrelenting obsession on the part of the revolutionaries to kill every Caucasian foreigner they can find seems to be a little much. And when the leader of a squad of these killers tries to force one of Jack’s daughters to pull the trigger on a revolver and shoot Jack in the head, while holding a pistol to the head of that same daughter, he reminded me of some Snidely Whiplash character tying a girl to the railroad tracks.
And then along came Jones. Or rather, along came Annie. You see, in times past, it was all right for the man to save the helpless woman, but that is no longer acceptable. And so, about halfway through the movie, Annie begins doing her share, even to the point of bashing the brains out of the guy trying to force her daughter to shoot Jack.
Finally, as the ultimate irony, Annie rows a boat containing her family across a river to Vietnam, where they find sanctuary. From there, presumably, they will go back to the United States and stay there. And so, thanks to the revolution, they live happily ever after. Without that, Jack would have been a failure with a miserable wife on his way to a divorce.