It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
For almost all of its length, "Escape from Alcatraz" is a taut and toughly wrought portrait of life in a prison. It is also a masterful piece of storytelling, in which the characters say little and the camera explains the action. It's one of those very difficult exercises in which large emotions, like the compulsion to be free, are reflected in minute actions, like the chipping away at stone with a pocket nail clipper.
The prisoner doing the chipping is Clint Eastwood, perfectly matched to the role. He plays a man named Frank Morris, of whom we learn very little, except that he has escaped from prisons before and has been sent to Alcatraz because no one has ever escaped from the Rock.
Early on, we see why: The warden (Patrick McGoohan) hovers over a model of Alcatraz and we see the sheer walls falling down to the rocks and the sea. A fellow inmate (Paul Benjamin) tells Eastwood what happens if you get that far: The tides make the mile swim seem like ten, the water's so cold your arms turn numb, and you can't make it to shore in the time-intervals between convict counts.
What we basically have here, then, is a prison version of a Locked Room mystery. You can't get out, and if you do, you die anyway. A challenge like that is irresistible to this Eastwood character, a lean and muscular loner containing great angers. But before the escape attempt itself, we're introduced to the daily routines of prison life and it's in these sequences that the director, Don Siegel, displays his special talent.