THE ESCORT: A Failed Experiment In Philosophical Filmmaking
Even when executed poorly, I like to think that I can appreciate filmmakers taking risks with their creations. In conjunction with this, I’m sympathetic to a filmmaker that is willing to tackle subject matter concerned with the marginalised in a thoughtful and respectful manner. And whilst Bizhan Tong undoubtedly set out to do this with his feature The Escort, his good intentions are muddied by a clichéd screenplay and a seeming lack of knowledge of how films best visually convey ideas.
The entire story takes place in real time over the course of a minuscule 68-minute runtime in the apartment of titular escort Veronica. She is visited by a client who, instead of using his prepaid hour to have sex, attempts throughout the film to convince her out of her chosen profession. Over the course of the session, backstories are established, secrets are revealed, and lives are changed.
The only issue is that no viewer would care, as the allowed time frame means these earth-shaking reveals occur before you could possibly develop any level of affection for the characters, particularly considering earlier behaviour on the client’s part.
Along with the script, it is clearly the two performances by Kevin Leslie and Olivia Moyles that director, writer, and producer Tong wanted to showcase. The entire film consists of their verbal sparring as they shift from flirtation to anger to misery and back to flirtation again, allowing them to display a tremendous amount of range. In fact, this film would probably function excellently as an audition tape for each of them, but unfortunately not much beyond that.
Because of the length, the intense emotions so expertly conveyed by Leslie and, in particular, Moyles come across as mood whiplash, more alarming than genuinely affecting. The fact that they are both largely stage actors contributes to this, their overdone enunciation and frequent shouting arguably being more suited to inside a theatre than in front of a camera.
Dialogue and Character Building
So here I arrive at the most noticeably flawed yet relentlessly obvious aspect of The Escort, the overwritten script. It feels like in every scene, there are a few moments designed with the intention of wowing the audience with the lead characters’ respective intelligence and wit. It is rare that these moments genuinely land in the way Tong hoped they would, and even rarer that you will think of them as well thought out or worth adding to the runtime. Alliteration like ‘pounding a pussy’ may read as eloquent on paper, but when read aloud by an actor it becomes cringe-worthy and unpleasant to hear.
It’s this awkward effect that prevents the characters from truly shining. Though Tong does a decent job of establishing their worldviews and lending them a certain level of depth, the bizarre quality of the dialogue makes them both sound like mouthpieces for generalised groups; this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it rather difficult to empathize with them as human beings. It mostly leads to each scene in the film feeling like an intellectual debate, rather than an emotionally charged conversation between two three-dimensional individuals.
A Different Medium?
At around twenty minutes into The Escort, I had a realisation – that this is a movie that completely misuses the medium of film. Entirely comprised of shot-reverse-shot, awkwardly long takes, very poor sound and lighting, and the occasional attempt at a clumsily ‘arty’ shot, it made me wonder why Tong didn’t instead opt for a medium like literature or theatre, where the writing or performances are left unfettered by the need for competent filmmaking. It isn’t unpleasant to look at by any means, but it certainly wasn’t made better by the choice of medium.
Conclusion: The Escort
Though I have an enormous level of respect for Bizhan Tong for putting his work out there as an artist with a point to make, even to the extent of interviewing escorts in preparation for writing the script, his actual practice definitely requires some sharpening. With an interesting premise not given the correct treatment, The Escort stands as a cinematic experiment that didn’t quite work out.
What do you think? Were you captivated or bored by The Escort? Let me know in the comments!
The Escort premiered in the UK on September 21, 2018.
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Zoe Crombie is a Film Studies student from Lancaster University, who has been writing for Film Inquiry since May 2018 as well as at her own site Obsess Reviews. She is a big fan of Studio Ghibli and The Marx Brothers, but is willing to watch anything and everything.