Friday sees the release of the harrowing true story Maze, centred around a mass prison break during 1983 of 38 members of the IRA. This is considered to this day the largest single prison break in Europe since World War II. Maze stars Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Barry Ward as two men on different sides of the prison break.
Maze has an incredible cast that perfectly builds the premise of the film. Through the minimal dialogue but powerful emotive performances both Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Barry Ward give visceral life to both the world they live in and the characters they play. And the world of Maze is a bleak and dirty one filled with broken but prideful men. The muted colours that director Stephen Burke chose to go with adds a realistic mood to the whole film. It adds another dimension to the film, one which adds a sense of defeat to the whole narrative. After all, these men went through hell and when Larry Marley (Lawlor) arrives at the HMP he’s branded a traitor for giving up on his cause which we learn was a hunger strike that lead to the deaths of many IRA members involved in it.
When Larry first arrives at the HMP the audience is shown that this is possibly the perfect set up for a prison. The men have no idea of the layout of the prison, being transported from one section of the compound to the next via a blacked out van. They also have no idea where they are as the walls are so high that they can see nothing but the guard towers, constant helicopter patrols, and the ever dingy sky. This whole set up is used to demoralise the men but it seems to have done the opposite, the prisoners treat being put in the HMP as a badge of honour. They’ve become symbols for their cause and so they need to be shut away because the enemy fears them. Sharing the block with Larry and his fellow IRA members are several Loyalists and there are almost daily riots between as their ideals clash constantly.
Unlike the rest of the inmates, Larry wants to escape so that he can continue to work for the IRA and so he hatches a plan that will require him to gain the trust of one of the guards. He singles out Gordon (Ward) and hopes to gain his trust so that when Gordon drops his guard all of Larry’s machinations come together to break out as many of his brothers in arms as possible.
Maze is a slow burner of a thriller, the tension of the events leading to the prison break builds well as the story and its characters coming crashing down in the climactic third act. Another fascinating element and possibly the best part of the film is the begrudging friendship that grows between Gordon and Larry. What starts off as a hostile relationship turns into something akin to a love/hate relationship (see what I did there). Gordon doesn’t like what Larry represents but that doesn’t stop Larry from charming Gordon and Larry is quite the charmer. He slowly worms his way into Gordon’s life between a mixture of happenstance and skill. Lawlor is fantastic as Larry because he can so easily turn on and off this charm to lower Gordon’s guard. They laugh about the footie and what’s going on outside the walls of the HMP but when Gordon’s back is turned Larry’s expression immediately shifts into something reminiscent of a shark circling its prey. Not being left in the lurch Ward’s Gordon is a proud and diligent officer of the law who is unfortunately caught up in the whirlwind of chaos that surrounds Larry and those he associates with.
Maze is a brilliant film with a visceral and fascinating story set during a dark time in Irish history. The performances of its cast are easily the best part of the film and will stay with you after the credits roll.