THE ESCAPIST – Benjamin Wallfisch

Original Review by Alan Rogers (First uploaded at

The Escapist is a 2008 British drama starring Brian Cox as convicted murderer and prison lifer Frank Perry. With no chance of parole, he has no choice but to plan a prison break when he decides to make peace with his estranged daughter before she dies after falling ill. In order to carry out his ingenious plan of escape he must call upon the skills of group of fellow inmates. What follows is a claustrophobic tale switching between prison breakout build-up and the actual escape through a warren of underground tunnels. Co-writer and director Rupert Wyatt’s (also director of the upcoming Rise of The Planet of The Apes) decision to use a minimum amount of dialogue together with the murky, gloomy feel to the movie presented a challenge to composer Benjamin Wallfisch.

Wallfisch came to the attention of the film music world with his acclaimed score to his feature film debut, Dear Wendy (released by MovieScore Media), earning him many accolades including a nomination for “Discovery of The Year” at the 2005 World Soundtrack Awards (WSA). As well as composing his own film scores he has orchestrated many of Dario Marianelli’s scores, including Atonement, Pride and Prejudice, V For Vendetta and Jane Eyre. Wallfisch’s score for The Escapist (which led to a second “Discovery of The Year” nomination at the WSA in 2008) is bookended by a memorable title theme that’s based on a raw and gutsy propulsive ostinato in the strings (particularly the low register strings) that’s reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s use of low strings in The Ring. The motif is embellished with piano, winds as well as cimbalom. The mix of the clear sound of the hammered dulcimer alongside the meaty but muddy sound of the strings of the propulsive motif is an interesting one and is heard particularly well in the second track of the score, “Diamond”. However, I have yet to decide whether the pairing is a good one or too awkward. Unfortunately, the main theme is not heard much during the middle part of the score and I find that the score suffers a bit from its absence. When it does return mid-score – for example, in “Lacey Is Free” where it begins in a slow tempo, accelerating to the tempo of the title theme before the track transforms to an almost religious-like crescendo – its return is most welcome.

The fast-paced title theme is countered by a series of atmospheric cues whose contents range from electronic murmurings, dissonant string sustains and percussion hits (“Lacey Hunted”), sickening screaming strings in high register with avant garde flourishes (“Tony Killed”) to a gloominess heard in “Abandoned Station” that echoes Elliot Goldenthal’s Alien³, before the track transforms to an unsettling music box-styled passage. There are also several cues (“Confessional”, “Elegy For Brody”, “Frank’s Vision” and “Reunion”) where wordless female vocals and soft piano chords add a religious quality to the music. But not having seen the film I do not understand the significance of this.

The mix of driving, propulsive main theme and more atmospheric cues makes for an interesting listen even though the attention can wander in the middle of the score. But there are some additional tracks (“Underground Escape” and “Sump Chase”) spread about the score that feature pounding electronica that does divert attention away from the main drama and emotion. They may be appropriate for the film but do tend to blunt the impact of the listening experience.

Wallfisch’s score for The Escapist is definitely worthy of repeated listens, particularly for the memorable title theme with the use of the cimbalom. As mentioned earlier, the theme doesn’t feature in the score as much as I would like but other aspects of the score such as the screaming strings of “Tony Killed” and the cues that have the wordless vocals keep the interest levels up. There is certainly much variety to be found within the 30 minutes playing time of this MovieScore Media (released in 2009) and it is a solid example of the talents of composer Benjamin Wallfisch.

Rating: ***

  1. Theme From The Escapist (1:35)
  2. Diamond (0:46)
  3. Confessional (2:07)
  4. Underground Escape (2:14)
  5. Viv’s Lab (0:55)
  6. Lacey Hunted (1:15)
  7. Lenny Recruited (0:53)
  8. Into The Dryer (0:31)
  9. Sump Chase (3:14)
  10. The Trade (1:07)
  11. Elegy For Brodie (1:00)
  12. Tony Killed (1:21)
  13. Abandoned Station (2:50)
  14. Frank’s Vision (1:06)
  15. Wonderment (1:17)
  16. Train (0:39)
  17. Lacey Is Free (2:34)
  18. Escalator (3:14)
  19. Reunion (1:18)
  20. End Credits (1:00)

Running Time: 31:05

MovieScore Media MMS-09010 (2009)

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