Geoff T 🎃’s review published on Letterboxd:
Another one due for a rewatch, and what better way than to follow up The Warriors with this? It's one I still find myself wanting to come back to despite my bigger love for other John Carpenter works. A solid cast, some gritty atmosphere, a theme song that gets you in the mood and a memorable lead role in the form of Kurt Russell.
In Escape from NY, we're presented with a dystopian future of an unlikely (but not impossible) reality, in which unsustainable crime-rates have led to the U.S becoming a police state and the entire island of Manhattan being transformed into a well-guarded security prison, the worst of society shut off from the rest of the world. Air Force One has crashed in, and one Special Forces soldier (and convict) is send in infiltrate the prison and bring back the President alive, while trying to survive the oddballs and crime lords that lurk the streets.
Considering Kurt Russell had mostly been in Disney fare prior, he knocks out as Plisskin. He doesn't have much to say, but the gruff Eastwood-esque voice and the eyepatch along with his cynical outlook and lack of care for the government's affairs make him the true definition of an "anti-hero". A bunch of notable cast members include Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasance as the president (whose Brit accent sticks out like a sore thumb), Issac Hayes as local crime lord 'The Duke', Ernest Borgnine as a friendly cab driver and Harry Dean Stanton (Alien).
Atmospherically speaking, I think it's fair to say that this is one of John's best works. The deserted streets of NYC are simply hell on earth, gangs and cannibals hiding in the shadows, half the street lights out, wrecked cars everywhere and nearly every building dilapidated, all of which were apparently shot in real-life U.S ghettos. Carpenter's own score only adds to the dread and despair, which range from the usual dark-ambient cues to more upbeat guitar riffs and synth beats.
My only disappointment with his usually-solid direction is that some of the action beats lack impact, especially compared to his work in Assault on Precinct 13 and They Live. Since that's only a small part of the narrative however, I can kind of forgive it. Some of the special effects however are impressive for the time period and budget, like a pre-CG wireframe simulation of NYC (done with glowing tape on a model) and the illusion of having every light in Manhattan shut off.
Personally, I think the first third that establishes the premise and universe begins it strongly, while the story kind of falls apart a bit once Plisskin enters the prison. Despite it's flawed narrative and dated feel, Escape is still a solid cyberpunk thriller that ranks up there with the most memorable of Carpenter's efforts, especially compared to it's overblown follow-up.