In this story, Seth (Josh McConville) has returned from a secret mission in Myanmar where the rest of his squad – Welshy (Firass Dirani), Stretch (Juwan Sykes) and Josh (Hugh Sheridan) – were all killed and whilst Seth made it home, the bodies of his mates were left behind. The guilt and trauma he carries with him has destroyed his marriage to Sarah (Natalie Rees) and threatens his relationship with his daughter Lizzie (Jessi Robertson). When Josh’s sister, journalist Rebecca (Bonnie Sveen) starts nosing around to try find out what happened to her brother, Seth’s Commanding Officer Michelle Pennyshaw (Rena Owen) tries to scare her off, but Rebecca won’t take no for an answer and tracks Seth down. So begins a strained, uneasy relationship that slowly draws out the truth that Seth is trying to hide from himself as much as he’s trying to keep it from Rebecca.
This is such a sensitive and important issue and Ashwood’s chosen to play the manifestation of Seth’s declining mental health at the extreme edges with vivid hallucinations and debilitating flashbacks and more than one attempt at suicide. For the most part this works as a powerful rendering of the pain and suffering soldiers like Seth experience, even if it sometimes threatens to go over the top into melodrama. It’s a hard call as to where to draw the line.
As the story of what happened in Myanmar is slowly told by Seth we’re transported into a series of memories of the squad in the jungle and the incidents that led to the deaths. As well staged and executed as these scenes are, it’s sometimes hard not to find parallels with Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) as they trudge through the jungle in search of Carl Boddi (Steve Le Marquand) a fellow soldier who’s gone rogue and fallen in with the local rebels as (in his own words) a kind of god. Their mission to locate and kill him sounds more than vaguely familiar and is an unnecessary distraction from what is otherwise a good story.
What works best in this film, though, are the strong performances. McConville (who was so good in 2018’s 1% ) pulls off the difficult task of playing such a shattered character. Sveen is believable as the grieving sister determined to learn the truth and bring her brother home and the two of them work well in the push-me-pull- you balance of a relationship that is on the knife edge between a strong attraction and a terrible truth. Sheridan (in flashbacks) is equally good as Josh who looks up to Seth like an older brother. When the truth is finally revealed, the relationship between both the actors and their characters is what keeps things from becoming overplayed. Jessi Robertson also delivers a great performance as the daughter who is older and wiser and more forgiving than her years but Owen as Pennyshaw and Rees as Seth’s wife are both wasted talents in roles that are underwritten and two dimensional.
The film is well shot by Wade Muller finding the right tonal differentiation between the scenes in Myanmar and the scenes at home and the special effects by Clint Ingram bring a good dose of realism to the scenes of conflict.
Escape and Evasion makes a good fist of telling a story that is timely and important and whilst the writing sometimes lets it down, the performances carry the story across the weaknesses to deliver a film that’s certainly worth a look.