In 1997, The President's plane crashes into the supermax prison of Manhattan and he is kidnapped by the prisoners inside. Who do you send to get him out? Snake Plissken, former soldier turned bank robber who just so happens to be headed into Manhattan for trying to rob the federal gold reserve. Snake has twenty four hours to battle through Manhattan's gangs and get the president out alive or Plissken's head explodes. 1981's Escape from New York stars Kurt Russell as Plissken, Lee Van Cleef as Hauk, Donald Pleasence as the President, Isaac Hayes as The Duke, among others and was directed by John Carpenter. A classic dystopia film, it is a must watch for Hunger Games and Divergent fans.
The driving force of the plot is Snake finding the President. Like the Warriors or various video games, Snake battles his way through one baddie after another and makes a few friends along the way. Everyone but Snake and the President ends in a hail of bullets or in one case a car because Manhattan as a prison is no place to be. Slow when it needs to be and full of fun action, there's not a ton to complain about as the movie hurries itself along.
Kurt Russell is this movie. Without his gruff and sarcastic Snake, not much else really sets the movie apart. He's an action star making improbable shots, but like Die Hard did later, he gets hurt and stumbles. He is not perfect except in his determination to just finish the damn day and won't let anything stop him. In a way, he's a proto-example of the 80s action star quipping lines and doing big stunts but feels human as he stumbles. No other character seems in awe of him, just surprised that he's still alive.
The support cast of Pleasence, Van Cleef, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton and Ernest Borgnine fill the world of the Manhattan prison with, while not "good" people, at least an element of humanity. They are funny and smart and tough as they help Snake in his mission while he helps them escape The Duke's control. And Hayes as the Duke is a sight to see, in rare form as the villain driving around with chandeliers on his Cadillac and making others pit fight for his amusement. The perfect cast alongside Russell.
An element that bears mentioning are the film's special effects. Not very many, but well done and seamless. As the movie is in the "near future" of 1997 (via 1981), the technology is not very advanced and they fire guns and drive cars that good ole Americans shoot and drive. The computers, however, are full of computer-created wire models that were actually done as practical effects. Instead of using costly computers, they just wrapped real models of Manhattan buildings in reflective tape and filmed it in a dark setting. This use of practical effects gives a crispness to the "computer" images that make them feel less dated as well as give reality to the explosions and gunfire. Just a well made movie all around.
For anyone interested in dystopian futures like Hunger Games or Divergent and fun 80s action movies like Die Hard and Commando, this is a must-see classic. Russell is fun as hell to watch as Snake and the effects hold up well. No reason not to watch this film at least once.