Maze: "It carried potential, but unfortunately forgot to use it."
Updated: Jul 1, 2019
Set almost entirely inside the most high-security prison in Northern Ireland, Maze recounts the great escape of 1983. The escape feels less epic than it probably was in real life, as the film unfolds without deep emotion or building suspense. There are no failures before the successes, and the ending closes before giving resolution or claiming a triumph.
Stephen Burke’s Maze opens with setting captions to explain the political tumult between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The blanket men are protesting the British government to join the Republic of Ireland. Ten men sacrificed their lives to hunger. These strikes are a hot topic of contention and the preceding violence only enlarges the divide.
In the background, a Margaret Thatcher speaks out on the radio against the republicans and their protests. “There is no such thing as political murder, political bombings, and political violence. There is only criminal murder, criminal bombings, and criminal violence.”
The political battle in Ireland reestablishes inside the maze. There is a heated divide inside the prison block between the blanket men from the Irish Republican Party and the Loyalist Protestants. The guards take a liking to neither.
The republican party, many of whom are wasting away in prison, have succumbed to their cages. They wait for their release date— some years away. Even the guards have noticed their faltering morale. The prisoners are given “civvies” to wear rather than prisoner’s garments. It looks peculiar to see a bunch of men freely roaming from their cement gray cells. They gather in the hallway in sweaters and jeans. As rules start to loosen, clever inmates use this to their advantage.
When Larry Marley (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) meets his wife during visiting hours, he is reminded why he’s in prison in the first place. He believes in his party’s cause and their struggle. Many of the wives don’t see it this way. They feel abandoned and the ten lost lives are only a reminder of what’s at stake.
Marley, however, refuses to watch his friends’ lives go in vain. He musters up enough rage to revolt—to show the world they still have a fight left in them.
Larry plants seeds in different parts of the prison, including one of the prison wards, Gordon Close (Barry Ward). With the help of inamtes in other blocks, he learns the prison layout and eventually the ins and outs.
To set up the escape, Larry establishes starts lending a helping hand and restores trust in the guards. He finds the weaknesses and holes in the system. In once scene, Larry even organizing a block party. Unlike most block parties, it didn’t involve drinks, food, and friends joining together for fun and comradery. Instead, Larry incited an all-inclusive fist fight between the republican inmates and loyalists, living in the same block. This resulted in the transfer of the loyalist inmates, so they had a block all to themselves.
Larry’s character never expresses much emotion. His inner storm slowly brews in a discrete manner. He stays calm, composed, and focused as he schemes with a few trusted companions. The only time Marley loses control is when his P.O. tells him the escape is off. We see him momentarily flare-up, storming into his room and throwing around the few things he has inside.
But alas, as one plan unravels another unfolds.
Although we know these men are seriously devoted to their cause, we are never told what exactly they’re fighting for. Thus, it is hard to rally behind them and root for their escape. Some parts of the plan are never explained. For example, how they managed to sneak six guns inside.
In the end, we’re informed the film is a true story—one I’d never heard but was glad to learn about. Yet, I still left empty handed, expecting more of a resolution and a definite impression. Maze felt valueless against other prison-escape movies like The Great Escape. An infamous escape in Ireland was made into an unspectacular historical short film. It carried potential, but unfortunately forgot to use it.