Is No Escape Based on a True Story?

Directed by John Erick Dowdle (‘The Poughkeepsie Tapes’), ‘No Escape’ is an action thriller film that tells the story of American Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), who arrives in an unnamed Southeast Asian country with his family to start working for his new employers, Cardiff, a big American corporation that builds water systems in developing countries. However, Jack soon discovers that a violent and bloody coup d’état is currently taking place in the country, and the rebels are especially targeting him and his family because of his association with Cardiff.

Following its release, ‘No Escape’ received some positive reviews, with critics praising the film for its pacing and themes. On the other hand, the film has garnered significant controversy for its portrayal of the fictional Southeast Asian country and its people, which some critics have dubbed offensive. If the grim and gritty aspects of the film and geopolitics depicted in it have made you wonder whether it is based on real-life events, here is what we have been able to find out.

Is No Escape a True Story?

No, ‘No Escape’ is not based on a true story. Dowdle wrote the screenplay in collaboration with his brother, Drew. The director stated in an interview that director Costa-Gavras’s 1982 biographical drama ‘Missing’ served as a major source of inspiration for him and his brother. The older film is based on Thomas Hauser’s 1978 book, ‘The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice,’ which was inspired by the events surrounding American journalist Charles Horman’s disappearance after the Chilean coup of 1973.

Starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek, ‘Missing’ revolves around Horman’s father (Lemmon) and his wife’s (Spacek) arrival in Chile and the desperate search for Horman. According to Dowdle, they wanted to ensure that the Dwyer family’s experiences remain at the center stage throughout their film, and ‘Missing’ provided them with a blueprint on how to do that. However, one obvious difference between the two films is the setting. While ‘Missing’ is clearly set in Chile in 1973, ‘No Escape’ avoids mentioning the country’s name where the story takes place.

The film’s concept originally occurred to the Dowdle brothers during their holiday trip with their father to Thailand in 2006. The country witnessed a coup d’état just before the Dowdles got there. Their experience in the country provided them with enough material for what would eventually be the script for ‘No Escape.’ The audience can glean from watching the film that the setting is a politically unstable Southeast Asian country that shares a border with Vietnam.

John shot the movie predominantly in Thailand, which doesn’t share any border with Vietnam. Moreover, the filmmakers had to ensure that they left out any scene that implies that the setting is Thailand. They also didn’t use the Thai language or any Thai signage in the film. According to Drew, the language spoken by the native residents in the film is an amalgamation of Laotian, hill-tribe languages, and other languages.

The film used upside-down Khmer lettering in certain scenes (for instance, the ones involving the police shields). The Khmer script is used to write the Khmer language, which serves as the official language in Cambodia. Incidentally, Cambodia does share a border with Vietnam, and a portion of which is located along the Mekong River. Shortly after the trailer for the ‘No Escape’ was released, the Cambodian government banned the film’s screening in the country, citing the misuse of the Khmer script. To cut a long story short, it is understandable why it may appear to some audience members that ‘No Escape’ was based on actual events, but it is evidently not the case.

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