During The Troubles of the late twentieth century, violence filled the streets of Northern Ireland and parts of Europe. Many also served times as prisoners during the conflict. Maze tells the story of how in 1983, 38 Irish Republican Army prisoners were able to escape one of the most notorious maximum security prisons in Northern Ireland. The 2017 is a quieter and more thoughtful prison escape movie than audiences may be used to.
Prison escape movies tend to follow a similar pattern. A prisoner begins to form a plan. This involves enlisting a crew and earning the warden’s trust. There is also lots of arguing and brawling during this time. Audiences learn about the struggle of being a prisoner while the escape plan itself is touched upon. The structure is very similar to a heist movie.
Maze takes a difference approach. There is very little action compared to similar movies. There is an occasional look a the violence that is happening in the outside world and one skirmish is seen between the prisoners. Otherwise, the film tackles the genre with a much softer touch. Maze is as much of a long con than a prison escape movie.
Tom Vaughn-Lawlor plays Larry Marley a IRA member imprisoned at Maze. Vaughn-Lawlor’s performance prevents the film from getting boring and keeps the audience engaged. Before Marley has been formally introduced to the audience, there is already an indication of what role he will play in the escape. His eyes never stay in one place for too long as he is constantly examining his surroundings. Marley is clearly trying to stay a step ahead of everyone, including his fellow IRA members.
Marley is one of the most interesting prisoners seen in a movie in a long time. Even for those who may be sympathetic to what the IRA was doing, it is hard to call him a “good guy”. Unlike many anti heroes, he is not loud or boisterous and lacks any sort of cool factor. He is a quiet man who is just a step above being described as “weaselly”. Yet, Vaugh-Lawlor’s portrayal never makes Marley seem weak or like a follower. He is a complex man who is single minded in his goals.
The consistency in Marley’s character is one of Maze’s highlights. As he is planning the great escape, Marley has to earn the confidence of Gordon, one of the wardens at Maze. Marley schemes his way into Gordon’s good graces, but he also never sacrifices his principles or what he believes in. Another of the film’s strong points are the philosophical debates held between Marley and Gordon. Neither man waivers which makes the final conversation between the two all the more satisfying.
The straight forward approach of Maze may be its most polarizing aspect. The movie is more about the give and take between Gordon and Marley. This is played out methodically over the course of the film’s hour and a half runtime. There is not the subterfuge and cloak and dagger that is almost a prerequisite for this type of film. At times, the way things work out may seem too simple or unexciting. An escape from of the most heavily guarded prisons in Europe should seem to be more grandiose, but Maze has a different focus.
Prison escape movies are usually tense and action packed affairs. Maze goes in a different direction. The planning and execution of the actual escape almost take a backseat to the examination of what the political conflicts have done to everyone. The long term aftermath left to wives and children is beautifully touched on while both sides of the argument are presented fairly. Maze proves that even movies about escaping from prison can be a toned down affair.