An odd, uneasy political thriller called Inescapable is the first feature by Syrian-Canadian filmmaker Ruba Nadda since she made waves with the intriguing 2009 cross-cultural romantic interlude Cairo Time. That she has reteamed with that film’s star, the Sudanese-British actor Alexander Siddig, is good news, but the results are more of a mixed bag—well-intentioned but heavy and muddled. That should not deter you. Even with its flaws, Inescapable is a cut above most of the fare we’ve been getting lately.
Mr. Siddig’s dark, brooding good looks put him in the catbird seat to play foreigners of every nationality and temperament. This time he is Adib Abdel Kareem, a successful computer operations manager in a Toronto bank, with a Canadian wife and two college-aged daughters who know nothing about his secret past. Now the epitome of today’s elegant, sophisticated businessman, Adib left Syria 30 years ago and immigrated to Canada under daunting circumstances—a Syrian military intelligence officer, he was denounced as a traitor and condemned to death in absentia as an Israeli spy. The inescapable past comes back to haunt him with a vengeance when his oldest daughter, a photographer on vacation in Greece, takes a detour to Damascus to investigate her paternal family roots and goes missing. At the risk of torture and death, Adib is forced to return to the dictatorship he thought he had escaped forever and call in old favors from some of the people who once betrayed him. From there, Inescapable follows the retired-operative-searching-for-kidnapped-daughter-behind-enemy-lines plot already mapped out by Liam Neeson in Taken, but without the sex and violence. And, some folks might add, without the excitement.
First he enlists the aid of Fatima, the heartbroken, resentful ex-fiancée he deserted (a weirdly cast Marisa Tomei, of all people, who overcomes all odds, masters a flawless Middle Eastern accent and lends strong emotional support). She gets him into the Arab Republic via Jordan with an illegal visa and navigates his way through the danger zones of Damascus, a sprawling mass of skyscrapers and secret police, arranging liaisons with former friends, allies and fellow spies, some of whom are now capable of locking him away forever. There’s also a duplicitous Canadian embassy official (Joshua Jackson), and assorted homicidal bureaucrats hiding their own secrets. The movie is a dossier on life under the hammerlock of a totalitarian police state that creates an understandable paranoia in the people who live there, and this director knows it well. (She lived for five years in Damascus.) It is also an exercise in controlled intelligence. Adib is more of a detective than a renegade; the gunfire and bloodshed are outweighed by patience—and not always with the requisite amount of logic. The subplots multiply. It is never clear why the thugs are holding the girl—photos she’s got of murder? Pedophilia? Espionage? And although Adib is covered with blood, sweat and dirt in almost every scene, how does he manage, in a strange country without dry cleaning, to never run out of tailored, freshly ironed white shirts?
Director Nadda is better at quiet, controlled love stories and less compelling when handling big action thrillers. The fight scenes are repetitive and the plot meanders, but the acting is superb. The remarkably expressive Mr. Siddig is sympathetic and true as the tortured father, communicating reams of emotion with his eyes, and Ms. Tomei is totally charismatic as his discarded lover who helps him out of a sense of humanity. The ways Mr. Siddig peels away layers of red tape, avoids arrest, overcomes webs of conspiracies and breaks into highly guarded top-secret government agencies without an appointment are less convincing. But up to the point where he turns into James Bond, he fills Inescapable with enough suspense to keep your attention from flagging. No small accomplishment in today’s film scene, so be thankful for small favors.
Running Time 90 minutes
Written and Directed by
Starring Alexander Siddig,
Joshua Jackson and Marisa Tomei