Escape from New York (1981)
Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), an ex-US special forces solider and now a convicted felon, must save the US president (Donald Pleasence) who has crashed in New York city. This is a bigger problem that it first appears because Manhatten island is now one giant prison and the prisoners have taken the president hostage.
A bleak but vividly imagined adventure movie that evidences Carpenter’s despairing vision of the future. Not as far from Ridley Scott’s quintessential “Blade Runner” (1982) as you might expect – at least in terms of atmospherics.
At its heart this is a b-movie western. In “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976), Carpenter took the Western and set it in gang-ridden 1970s Los Angeles; in this movie, Carpenter once again takes the themes of the Western but this time transposes them onto the not-so-distant future: “Escape from New York” (1981) has a desperate hostage situation; a disparate gang of outlaws and a decidedly acid-tongued (anti-) hero.
Cinematograher (and Carpenter-regular) Dean Cundey’s minimalist use of lighting means that this one of the darkest pictures you’re likely to see in the action-thriller genre; and as ever, Carpenter’s pulsating synthesizer provides the fitting score to what is, surprisingly, a rather slow-paced movie.
In essence, “Escape from New York” is a comic-book tale. Yet, Carpenter’s skills behind the camera manage to make a serious and compelling urban nightmare. Plissken’s nihilism towards the ‘heroes’ populating the world outside the island prison rips any light-heartedness from the proceedings. The genuine good guys are to be found within, not outside, the prison city’s walls.
Kurt Russell is electric in a role which in retrospect seems tailor-made for him. Harry Dean Stanton and Adrienne Barbeau give under-stated but perfect support as prisoners blessed with some degree of morality. The bit-parts of Donald Pleasance, Lee Van Cleef and Ernest Borgnine finish off what is really a stellar-cast.
Don’t expect a happy ending and Carpenter pulls no punches in keeping with the tradition of sentimentality.
Deservedly, now a cult classic, the moody “Escape from New York” (1981) is perhaps Carpenter’s coolest movie. In his career, this film could perhaps be best-described as the director’s brooding yet smouldering teen-idol.
Hotdog rating: 8/10