The Escape Artist

The Escape Artist (2013)
PBS Home Video
Cast: David Tennant, Sophie Okonedo, Toby Kebbell, Ashley Jensen
Extras: Interview Featurettes

To most people, David Tennant is either the tongue-flicking Barty Crouch Jr from the film "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," or the charismatic Tenth Doctor, the titular energy bundle from "Dr. Who." Leaving his Timelord persona behind, David Tennant has recently worked on a series of new project, including the PBS mini-series "The Escape Artist."

Will Burton (David Tennant) is a highly successful public defender, in a friendly, but fierce, competition with Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo) for the top spot of professional success. While he loves the fact that he is contributing to the proper application of the law, being a public defender brings its own moral dilemma, particularly when defending the more unsavory elements of society.

This is the case when Burton is hired to represent Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell), a man who is accused of having killed a young woman in the most savage of ways. Burton is fully convinced that Foyle committed the crime but his job and professionalism dictate that he defend the man to the best of his ability. As a result, Foyle goes free, the result of Burton's skillful piercing of every shred of evidence and creating doubt in the jury's mind.

What he did not know is that Foyle is a psychopath, however, and after refusing to shake hands with the murderer, the killer sets his sights on Burton and his family. In a savage act of violence he kills Burton's wife, without leaving any real trace of evidence other than Burton's own eye witness account. Suddenly, Burton finds himself face to face with his competitor Maggie Gardner, who defends Foyle and wants him to go free. But what's worse is that because of his own implication in the case, Burton's hands are tied. By law, he is not permitted to work on the case. He has to sit idly by and watch the proceedings. What if the man, who destroyed his life should go free once again as a result of the legal mambo of his public defender?

"The Escape Artist" convinces on every level. Starting with a story that is intriguing and just keeps getting better as the plot unravels, the film is more than a simple court room drama. Only a small portion of the film actually plays in court rooms-and those portions are exceedingly effective. The more important elements of the film are playing on the emotional side, and viewers will find it very easy to sympathize with Will Burton's character and his pain. There a number of truly hearty-wrenching moments in this film that help viewers understand the emotional impact the legal proceedings have on David Tennant's character. And Tennant plays him well. Drawn and tired-looking, sad and often dejected, his character of Will Burton is coming to life marvelously in Tennant's hand with humble humanity, and as the third part of the three-episode mini-series kicks off, the character's intensity goes through the roof. With subtle story-telling tricks, "The Escape Artist" thunders towards its conclusion, often leaving the viewer ever so slightly in the dark about where it is heading, making the payoff in the end all the more satisfying.

Don't be fooled. "The Escape Artist" is a lot more than a court room drama, and I am glad I checked it out. Television shows have come such a long way, and it is great to see that networks such as PBS and the BBC are making the most of the medium by creating shows that are engaging, intelligent, heartfelt and exciting. Without the soft porn sensibilities and hyper violence of so many contemporary American TV productions, "The Escape Artist" keeps its focus where it truly belongs-on a solid story and great characters.

PBS and BBC are presenting this "Masterpiece Mystery" on Blu-Ray on this release in a wonderful 1080i high definition transfer. The presentation is absolutely clean and free of any blemishes or defects. It revels in detail and offers up an absolutely natural-looking color palette throughout. Contrast is perfectly balanced and with its deep blacks, the image has plenty of visual depth.

The release is accompanied by a stereo audio track that is also clean and clear. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable, but the track seems to have a slight high end roll-off, removing some of the top end frequencies, sacrificing transparency in places. It is a minor quibble, however, that most people won't even notice.

As bonus materials, the release also contains two interview featurettes. The first one features director David Wolstencroft as he discusses the film, while the second one allows David Tennant to reflect on his character in more detail.

"The Escape Artist" is a great release that fans of crime dramas should definitely check out. Not only does it give you the chance to see David Tennant again – and in a great part to boot – but it is also a riveting drama that asks all the right questions and presents an intelligent story with teeth.