Escape from New York

Escape from New York ★★★★

John Carpenter, in an act of open disgust over the aftermath and cynicism surrounding Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal, wrote the first draft for Escape from New York and passed it around to studios, all of whom rejected it for its violence and weirdness. Realizing that he would need to establish himself as a sound screenwriter, Carpenter lucked out with the hit success of Halloween, and was tapped by AVCO-Embassy for a two-picture deal, the first being The Fog and the second being the long-awaited New York jungle film Carpenter had been sitting on (at least, after his friend Nick Castle came in to flesh the film out with more humor and wit). With a film that rides by entirely on being "cool", as well as being a slick and smartly-written slice of action and suspense, it's become known as a quintessential film of the 80's for a reason.

Snake Plissken, all grit and no bullshit, is a legend of a man, having been a decorated Lieutenant before turning to a life of crime and presumed dead (a point many point out throughout). A shadowy force to be reckoned with, Snake holds a loose form of moral code given the failures of his government, one where nothing is important or sacred, yet never reaches a sociopathic point unlike the anarchists in the Manhattan-wide prison he's thrown into. Snake's the type of man who never loses his cool and has an incredible amount of nerve, even with the dystopia New York has become, and it's that level-headedness that makes him such a memorable character to follow and root for, even with as few words as necessary, as he's able to confront the possibility of dying after 23 hours without fear of the system he's thrown into, but rather with patient contempt, waiting to strike at those that oppose him with venomous skill.

Of course, this is vital given the complete jungle that Manhattan, now turned into one giant prison for its criminals to run amok in their own mangled society. It's a slow-burn towards the true madness lurking within (indeed, it took until the second half for me to get fully in tune with its "wavelength", so to speak), but once we see The Duke, the pimped-out ruler of the city with chandeliers for hood ornaments, then we can truly revel in the complete seediness this world has become. It's a savage land where anyone can die, and as time races on more facets of this nihilistic world, combat rituals and sources of entertainment to name some, become revealed in a riveting example of atmosphere and constant dread and unease perfectly allowing any lapses of logic to be more forgivable, since it's in purpose of making New York both a hellhole, and a world where the only rules that matter is bringing us, the audience, something cool as shit to marvel at.

Though some of the effects have not aged all that gracefully, really revealing the B-movie budgeting-philosophy Carpenter took to heart at the expense of making things a little more believable, Escape From New York is a champion of a film on account of how well he channels the anger and distrust of the world at this time, predicting its own downfall where even one of the biggest U.S. cities isn't safe, as well as those in the line of duty never fully agreeing with the actions of the big leagues, yet doing their job with hollow compliments of courageousness waiting for them. It's a film rooted with political contempt, yet manages to work great even if that line of thinking never crosses the mind, what with tight pacing and solid construction of how key information is communicated and shown effective that makes it a treat to watch. A certified badass at the helm and a damn good action/light sci-fi hybrid to boot, there's many reasons to call this a "classic" (one of them being no "basketball to the death").

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