A talented actor and a gripping plot that’s based on a true story seem like a recipe for a great feature, right? Well, that might be the case with many, but does it work with Escape from Pretoria?
The film follows South African anti-apartheid activist Tim Jenkin (Daniel Radcliff) and his friend Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber) after they are arrested and jailed. Jenkins is sentenced to 12 years, while Lee is sentenced to eight in the infamous Pretoria Prison, but the pair are determined to escape at all costs. Will they succeed?
Despite being based on a true story, it does not stick exactly to facts throughout the film. Instead, the feature is more of a prison escape movie than anything else. Even the whole fighting against apartheid thing is placed in the background, especially once the pair are locked up, which is almost all of the movie. Inside the prison, Jenkin’s motivation to keep going seemed to come more from his girlfriend, than his solid belief in the cause he was jailed for, as he often looks at her picture for reassurance.
The plot is also problematic as it leaves out the story’s most challenging part, which is the trial and error of creating the wooden keys that Jenkins was going to use to escape. Instead, the film trades that for suspenseful moments, which capture the audiences’ attention, but doesn’t set it apart from any other escape film. Also, at one point Jenkins could open his cell door and those of his friends, so why didn’t they just hit the security guard on the head and use his keys to unlock the rest of the doors? The film does not have an answer for that, among many other unanswered questions.
The film’s biggest issue was its characterisation, or actually, the lack of it; the audience got almost no backstory of how and why the pair got into fighting for the cause, or who they are, and why the audience should care about them in general. That left audiences wanting them to get out only because they are the supposed good guys, as the film shallowly portrays them.
For the acting, Daniel Radcliff was able to pull off the intense suspense look and the worrisome look whenever something or another went wrong. However, the actor fell short when it came to the South African accent, which he attempted but unfortunately definitely did not nail. Daniel Webber showed charisma and potential in his thin side-note of a role, leaving the audience mourning the wasted potential.
Even though Escape from Pretoria makes you wonder about the history it presents, it won’t quench your thirst for information, nor your need for an interesting movie.