It is a bit tough to believe and is far from perfect…but it is pretty exciting.

by Martin Hafer

Often, before or after watching a film I will go to IMDb to read through the reviews to see what others think about a particular film. In the case of The Escape Artist, I was rather surprised at the intensity of many of the reviews. To say that they hated the film is probably an understatement! One called it the ‘by far worst show’ ever to be aired on Masterpiece Theater here in the United States. Another said it had a ‘dreadful story line’. Many complained that the show wasn’t very believable, though some admitted that the acting and mood were good.

I cannot say how credible the story is here. The complaints mostly had to do with court procedures and last time I checked, I wasn’t a British barrister (for us non-Brits, it’s a lawyer who tries cases in court). I think the other reviewers were probably correct–but I simply don’t know for sure. Heck, I am not even sure about court procedures in the US let alone the UK! So, while the story does seem far-fetched at times, I just cannot say whether such a case could or could not occur.

The Escape Artist
Directed by
Brian Welsh
David Tennant, Toby Kebbell, Gus Barry
Release Date
Out Now
Martin’s Grade: C+

David Tennant stars as Will Burton–a very successful defense barrister. The film begins with him defending Liam Foyle in a grisly murder case. It seems pretty obvious that Foyle is a sociopath who did brutally murder someone…but Burton is able to work the system and get him acquitted. Shortly after this, inexplicably, the now free Foyle files a protest against Burton for misconduct! This makes no sense and soon it’s obvious that Foyle is out to get Burton. Yes, I know–why would he attack the man who just got him out of prison?! Well, Foyle’s next move is to attack Burton’s wife and he butchers her–just like the earlier victim. In this case, Burton himself sees Foyle out the window–gloating over his handywork. Now Burton gets to feel what it’s like to be on the other side of the law and see another clever lawyer work hard to keep Foyle from serving time for his infamous crimes.

What follows are a lot of court proceedings and more instances where seemingly good evidence is tossed out because Foyle’s new barrister is clever…just like Burton had been. Again, I have no idea if it was reasonable or not…I just don’t know. However, I have seen many cases here in the US where justice truly was blind…and stupid. I used to work in the mental health system and was called to court frequently and saw insane behavior by judges (such as one where a judge made a long speech blaming society for a rapist who had molested a four-year-old).

So, unless you are a barrister or judge, it’s really not possible to determine if any of this is plausible–and I’d LOVE to hear from one if you have seen the show and could explain to all of us if the plot was believable. What I do assume was quite ridiculous is the scene where Foyle is screaming and behaving like a wildman at his second barrister’s office. He’s walking about on their conference table and is unhinged. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to assume if this really happened that the lawyers would have him arrested and would petition to be removed from the case. Harsh verbal abuse and threats wouldn’t be tolerated. A few other scenes also seemed tough to believe–such as the ridiculous and poorly written confrontation scene between Foyle and Burton in the third and final installment.

So what I am left with is to discuss the other merits of The Escape Artist apart from the bizarre plot twists and court procedures. The acting was superb and it was nice to see Tennant could do something other than play Dr. Who. He was excellent in his role as Burton. As for the rest, they, too were quite good. Additionally, the combination of direction, music and cinematography worked very, very well to create a creepy and brooding mood. It certainly is never dull nor unprofessional looking–which makes me wonder about all the really, really, really negative reviews. They just seemed a bit harsh, though I could understand their concerns about the difficulty in believing the plot. As for me, I see it as a film you can enjoy provided you just turn off that part of your brain that wants to question the plot. Just suspend your sense of disbelief and enjoy.

Finally, although this was originally shown on Masterpiece Theater here in the States, it is out on DVD and is available widely (as well as through Netflix). Not especially brilliant but never dull and worth your time if you love thrillers.