Thursday, November 1, 2012

Escape from New York (John Carpenter)


With "Escape from New York", director John Carpenter (alongside co-writer Nick Castle) offers us a frighteningly war-torn vision of 1998 where the eponymous city is nothing but a maximum security prison and the hope of mankind solely resting on the shoulders of an eye-patched criminal named Snake. Oh how screwed Carpenter's world is.  
As a seminal action film, the picture's visuals and simple yet compelling premise (adhering to the 'lone man on a mission' film archetype) is very, very potent even to this day. Although there were moments that seem to call for some swifter editing and some scenes that suggest that the film has not aged that well, the whole experience is still quite unique. Kudos to Kurt Russell (in his great coming-out party as a cinematic badass), who has played the anti-heroic Snake Plissken in a manner that oozes dark charisma and irrevocable screen presence. The supporting cast, comprised mainly of seasoned veterans like Donald Pleasence, Lee Van Cleef and Ernest Borgnine, is also quite great despite of the one-dimensionality of their characters. 
As a filmmaker, John Carpenter is very admirable in how he was always able to project flinching social commentaries while still being able to retain the integrity of various genre trappings. "Escape from New York", a truly gripping action picture, is one of the earliest examples of how action films can go all-out on the thrills but can still be articulate enough to say a thing or two. With the demoralizing trails left by the Watergate scandal and the Cold War paranoia raging at the time of the film's release, John Carpenter was able to share a piece of his mind regarding these sociopolitical issues by letting the film's visuals and exposition speak on his behalf. The commentary may be a tad too cynical, but hey, aren't they all? "Escape from New York" may just be the American answer to "Mad Max".


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