Because the basic plot of Ruba Nadda‘s Inescapable is about a badass father trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter, it will instantly be compared to Taken (even though you only need to look as far back as 24 to see a story about a badass father trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter). There’s so much in Inescapable that shoots down comparisons to Taken including the setting, the circumstances surrounding the daughter’s kidnapping, the protagonist’s background, and how he goes about his business. Sadly, Inescapable stalls as a thriller because it never figures how to fully take advantage of its unique qualities.
Adib (Alexander Siddig) formerly worked in the Syrian Military Intelligence Service, but fled the country twenty years ago to live in Canada. There, he raised a family and found a peaceful life working in finance, but in January 2011, his teenage daughter Muna (Jay Anstey) goes missing in Damascus. The reason he left Syria may have come back to haunt his child, so Adib risks his life by rushing back to his home country to save Muna. Once he’s there, he is able to get help from his old love, Fatima (Marisa Tomei) and Canadian embassy employee, Paul Rich (Joshua Jackson), but Adib is still racing against the clock as the country’s secret police closes in on him.
Because Inescapable will be superficially compared to Taken, I will retort by saying that Inescapable could have been better than Taken. Taken works because Liam Neeson is really good at playing a badass. But the moral is basically, “Daughters, don’t lie to your fathers or you’ll be kidnapped by a human sex trafficking ring.” By comparison, Muna goes to Damascus because she wants to learn about her father’s past, which she wouldn’t have had to do if Adib had been honest with her. He’s indirectly responsible for her kidnapping, and he has to face his past life in order to save his daughter. Furthermore, while Adib also has “a special set of skills”, some of those skills, like knowing who to bribe, come with a cultural understanding rather than the vague fear of “the other.”
Despite these strong plot points, Nadda can never get them to click together. The important moments from Adib’s past are handled in the bland fashion of finding old newspaper clippings or photographs. Taken broke down the “special set of skills” in a clear and concise fashion; Inescapable sets up for the same kind of smooth delivery when Adib enters Syria, but once he’s in the country he seems lost, which is somewhat understandable considering how convoluted the plot gets when it comes to finding out what happened to Muna. He doesn’t need to be physically hard-charging like Neeson’s Bryan Mills, but Adib only seems physically capable when it’s convenient for the script.
To be fair, Nadda isn’t trying to make Adib into Mills. Taken is a hunt where Mills is the predator, and everyone involved in his daughter’s kidnapping is the prey. Adib, a former spy, is engaged in an investigation, which engages his intellect rather than his fists. But again, this is a missed opportunity since Adib doesn’t get enough chances to show off a powerhouse intellect. He’s not an idiot, but he doesn’t consistently come across as a formidable thinker. Thankfully, Siddig has a commanding screen presence, and Inescapable is stronger because he’s in the lead. Getting Marisa Tomei to play an Arab woman is a considerably poorer decision.
Tomei may be grossly miscast, but she’s a minor misstep in a film that constantly stumbles over its potential. Cinema doesn’t have too many Arab heroes. A country like Syria is always a place for danger, but never a vital part of the protagonist’s origin. It’s rare that a story about a father trying to rescue his daughter doesn’t come off as paternalistic. But for everything that makes the movie special, Inescapable constantly fizzles out, and will limp off as a forgotten thriller that never thrilled and mystery that never intrigued.
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