Inescapable opens in New York and Los Angeles today, followed by On Demand next week (check your local provider). I received a review copy just before a major snow storm hit Kansas, so snuggled down with some hot cocoa and watched the latest collaboration between writer/director Ruba Nadda and lead actor Alexander Siddig.
Inescapable is the story of Adib Abdel Kareem (Siddig), a Syrian expat living in Toronto, Canada, with his lovely wife and two daughters. He has a good job and a good life, but his secret past is about to throw all of that into disarray. When Adib’s eldest daughter, Muna, decides to visit her father’s homeland after a photography trip to Greece, she disappears and Adib is on the first plane out of Toronto to find her.
The story of a father searching for a missing daughter in a foreign land isn’t new, but I’ve never seen one from a “local’s” perspective. Adib isn’t some outsider trying to navigate a complicated police state; he’s a former Syrian military police officer with intricate knowledge of how the system works, and the dangers lurking around every corner as he uses every tool at his disposal to find his daughter without being “disappeared” himself. Twenty-five years ago, Adib was falsely accused of being an Israeli spy and fled the country to escape trial and certain conviction. Returning to Syria is dangerous and reopens a lot of old wounds, both for him and for those he left behind.
Marisa Tomei plays Fatima, the fiancee Adib abandoned when he escaped, walking a knife’s edge of emotion. She is willing to help him and clearly still loves him, but there’s a rage simmering underneath the reserved facade that is as frightening as any shadowy figure with a gun. I found myself wishing for more scenes between Fatima and Adib, delving into their past together and their present apart. At what point did Fatima stop waiting for him to send for her? Did she ever stop? How did she build a life within the confines of what he left behind while he started over with a clean slate in Canada? There’s certainly another story in Fatima and Adib, and I was left wanting more.
Joshua Jackson is Paul, a diplomat in the Canadian embassy who Adib goes to not so much for help, but in case he – Adib – should go missing. Sort of an insurance policy. Paul turns out to be a little shadier than expected, and more help than expected. His part in the story was a twist I didn’t see coming.
Another blast from Adib’s past is Sayid, played by Oded Fehr. Both men served in the secret police at the same time, but where Sayid seems to be welcoming of his old friend’s return, shortly after they reconnect Adib tells Fatima that Sayid “is as obsessed as ever” with him. It’s a quick line, almost buried in the tangled backstory being revealed, but it adds a sinister layer to an already tense story.
“Sinister” and “tense” are the words that were going through my head for about 90% of Inescapable. Nadda’s trademark for her characters is restraint (see: Cairo Time), and this is no exception. Where some reviewers have dismissed Inescapable as dull, boring, or lacking emotional weight, my nerves were taut watching these characters attempt to navigate a dangerous situation without making it worse. Holding their emotions at bay, focusing on what had to be done next, that was the only way to succeed. It’s more subtle than typical Hollywood fare, and it doesn’t work in every instance, but overall it worked for me.
As the lead, and the character from whose point of view the story is told, Siddig is in every scene, and he carries it well. He primarily plays Adib’s emotions with restraint, but every now and then he cracks and let’s us see how frustrated Adib is with the situation and how terrified he is of losing his daughter forever. Those brief flare ups are helpful to clarify the character’s emotional state, but it’s the smaller moments that are especially telling.
There are a pair of scenes, one at the very beginning of the movie and one about midway through, that show Adib going through his morning routine. In the first, he’s home in Toronto, getting ready for work. He goes through the ritual of preparing for the day in a familiar but precise manner. In the second, he’s at his hotel in Damascus after a difficult night searching for Muna. This time the ritual feels more like a way for him to restore some sense of control, of sanity to his situation. It’s these glimpses into character that I enjoy about Nadda’s work.
Inescapable isn’t perfect – I’m still not entirely clear how each piece fit together to lead to Muna’s disappearance – but it’s worth watching for Siddig and Tomei’s performances alone. Check here to see if it’s coming to a theater near you, and watch for it On Demand beginning February 25.