Seth Graham

"Escape is definitely not a remake," insists Yegor Konchalovsky, referring to his fourth feature film (Manuel Muhm, The Running Man, St. Petersburg Times (8 April 2005)). Aficionados of American popular culture, however, will find the plot very familiar: a prominent doctor is wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife, makes an unplanned, opportunistic escape from a prison transport, and spends the rest of the movie being hunted by a hard-edged federal agent while simultaneously searching for the true culprit. Konchalovsky – who established himself as one of Russia's leading action-film directors with Antikiller (2000) and Antikiller 2 (2003) – complicates the character development and motivations that drive the venerable plot in ways that distinguish it from both the 1993 American film The Fugitive (dir. Andrew Davis) and the 1960s television series of the same name. He gives the pursuing agent, for example, a melodramatic back story, and the doctor-turned-fugitive begins the film as talented, but also unlikeable. The camera-work is also eclectic; Konchalovsky and cinematographer Anton Antonov use the familiar black-and-white-flashback device, as well as a grainy stock and choppy slow motion for some of the action scenes. The complications are close to excessive, not because they distract from the central action of the chase, but because they are woven together in a Zhivago-like web of coincidences that taxes the viewer's credulousness. The fugitive, Vetrov, has a preternatural talent for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and is accused not only of murdering his wife, but several other murders, a fatally botched operation, and, in a flashback, his wife's miscarriage.

Mironov and Konchalovsky

One of the film's other shortcomings is the uneven performance of the lead actor, Yevgeny Mironov, who begins well, portraying the nuances of the altruistic-yet-self-absorbed surgeon, but for most of the film seems to have two thespian modes: saccharine and scenery-chewing. Also doing a bit of chewing, but generally more convincing, is Aleksei Serebriakov (unforgettable as the transsexual stakhanovite in Sergei Livnev's 1994 film, Hammer and Sickle) in the role of Pakhomov, the colonel in charge of the manhunt who for some reason insists to the point of violence that the fugitive be captured alive (just one of the mysteries revealed at the end of the film). Konchalovsky is to be commended for exploring the similarities between the hunter and the hunted – which gives the film a sort of parallel-action buddy-film feel that worked well for Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones in the 1993 film – but, again, the extraneous characters and plotlines distract from this central relationship.

Konchalovsky is the nephew of director Nikita Mikhalkov and the son of director Andrei Konchalovsky and actress Nataliya Arinbasarova (heroine of the elder Konchalovsky's 1965 debut feature film, First Teacher), who has an uncredited cameo as the director of an orphanage. He is also the grandson of Sergei Mikhalkov, a famous writer of children's stories and perhaps the only man in history to have written three national anthems – all for the same country.