Films about spiritual journeys should be celebrated, as they force us to explore deeper truths about our lives, but this one veers unevenly from comedy to drama to romance as it heads for a less-than-revelatory conclusion. It's nicely shot and some of the acting is decent, but it's difficult to identify with characters we don't like very much, and in the end the film feels as pointlessly gimmicky as its title.
This is the story of London ad executive Callum (Hurn), whose faltering business sparks some sort of internal quest for meaning in life. It doesn't help that his current make-or-break client is a cranberry alco-pop that seems impossible to sell. His bullying colleague Marrlen (Warren) is making his life miserable, so he doesn't really hesitate when he meets the free-spirited Malika (Dray) and she invites him to go camping in her native France. Off they go on a journey into the woods, where Malika separates Callum from his mobile phone, ruins his hand-made shoes and helps him quit smoking, all before sending him deeper into What's Really Important.
Yes, this is familiar stuff, including the usual message about how our lives have become far too busy and interconnected, leaving us unable to understand ourselves anymore. We may be able to identify with this idea, but the film's simplistic, sometimes silly approach doesn't help us explore it in any meaningful way. At least it's nicely shot, with a clever use of the woodland settings, which also appear Callum's dreams of running naked through the forest to practice tai chi by a lake. By contrast, the scenes in his ad agency look tacky and garish, as his colleagues clown around and never actually come up with anything creative. No wonder the business is in trouble!
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Since their mum left nine months earlier, 15-year-old Dean (Poulter) has been taking care of 11-year-old brother Jimmy (Williams) by working in construction at the Olympic park. But Jimmy is failing at school and getting increasingly involved with a gang of local drug dealers (Gregory, Maskell and Rheon). Then after eight years in prison, their dad Bill (Creed-Miles) comes home, realising that he must show some responsibility to keep his sons from being taken into care. But they don't know him, and he doesn't know anything about being a father.
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'The Great Escape' was released on this day (September 11th) in 1995.