Most of Get Away If You Can‘s first act works to posit the film as a maritime suspense thriller with disturbing echoes of Natalie Wood’s 1981 death. Wood, at the time married to Robert Wagner, spent the last night of her life aboard the Splendour with Wagner and their friend Christopher Walken. After a night of heavy drinking and feverish arguing she disappeared, her body found near a small dinghy the next morning. Get Away If You Can establishes its narrative too upon a boat—a sailboat, in this instance—where troubled marrieds Domi and TJ bicker over booze, trading harsh threats and nasty snarls. That can’t end well. Can it?
Director-writer-producers Dominique Braun and Terrence Martin play the couple themselves. Domi (Braun) is an artist who has lost her muse and hopes to renew her creativity on a deserted island chain known to locals as “The Islands of Despair.” TJ (Martin) drinks—heavily, copiously, absurdly, usually straight from the bottles littered about him—and bellows. He fantasizes about killing Domi, egged on by flashbacks to conversations with his father Alan (Ed Harris), who seems unusually determined that TJ kill his wife. Domi, meanwhile, rues her lost artistry and fantasizes about having sex, she and TJ now apparently well past any inkling of intimacy.
One of them will get their way.
With much of the first act devoted to the couple’s intense squabbling, interrupted only for flashbacks for TJ’s heart-to-hearts with his dad and Domi’s tête-à-têtes with sister Marina (Martina Gusman), Get Away If You Can leans hard into thriller tropes: the rocky waves, shaky camera, treacherous weather, and tight quarters all suggest this couple’s getaway will end in violence. Unfortunately, there’s no real apparent narrative structure to the sequence of events. We know who said what, but never when, so any notion of causality is lost.
Why does Alan hate Domi so? Why did TJ fall in love with her in the first place if she is so problematic? What, for that matter, did Domi ever see in TJ, and why does she think spending weeks on a small boat stocked with a storeful of booze would rekindle their romance—or for that matter, her flagging creativity? More confusing is the liberal use of imagery that is apparently a character’s fantasy but presented cinematically as the story’s reality. The technique here creates a small modicum of suspense but at the expense of character development and narrative continuity. TJ, in particular, is so vile and noxious it’s hard to imagine anyone willing to get on a boat with him.
As producer-writer-directors, Braun and Martin deserve kudos for creating a script and story that disrupts genre conventions. Like in the recent thriller Rogue Agent, Get Away If You Can sets up its audience to expect, based on recognizable tropes (think poor Julia Roberts in the first act of Sleeping with the Enemy—or for that matter, Natalie Wood aboard the Splendour), a certain narrative pattern, only to subvert audience expectation. Get Away If You Can becomes “about” something else entirely and climaxes (not using that word lightly) someplace entirely unexpected.
Taken on its merits, that’s a good thing. I am all for a film that subverts genre expectations, that rejects violence against women, that takes a woman’s artistic and sexual needs seriously. Even one that rejects unbridled, toxic machismo and unfettered capitalist pursuits for an equality of the sexes and a peaceful, beatific existence. Braun and Martin’s script, to its credit, aims for all of these, but it takes a radical turn to do so. At the same time, to convey a range of expression from utter loathing to profound love and affection seems beyond the two—they are married to each other—as actors. Braun’s Domi benefits from a more sympathetic talk-to; Martin’s TJ is dominated by his father. In their scenes together, the two lack conviction as actors despite their real-life connection and pursuits.
The film’s press kit notes that their film was a long time in the making, paused several times to raise funds and altered significantly by the pandemic, both in its production and in its ending. I’m continually astounded by the creativity of filmmakers and other artists who’ve navigated the pandemic in a variety of ways, from Charli XCX and Bo Burnham to the filmmakers behind Alone Together and Glorious: anyone who manages to marshal scant resources and finish a film of any sort—much less an intercontinental water-based one like Get Away If You Can—during the pandemic deserves recognition of their accomplishment.
At the same time, it’s one of those very limitations that threatens to sink the film before it reaches shore. Neither Braun nor Martin has any film acting experience or credits to their name. Now sometimes a film newcomer can literally light up the screen, like YouTuber Claudia Sulewski does in I Love My Dad. Here, though, whether Braun and Martin’s casting each other was a matter of convenience, necessity, or self-confidence, the end result is an onscreen relationship that seems oddly unconvincing. Braun and Martin may look like they could indeed be related to Martina Gusman and Ed Harris, respectively, but neither of them brings to their role the depth of experience the accomplished supporting cast provides.
A colleague of mine once told me she’d pay good money—and had!—to see Ed Harris squint through 80 minutes of a film and smile for five. I don’t disagree: the veteran actor with over 75 films and four Academy Award nominations always commands the screen with his icy stare and unwavering gravitas. Even when, as is the case here in Get Away If You Can, his onscreen time is limited to a few minutes here and there and his motivations obscure and implausible, his steely, piercing gaze still carries the weight of conviction.
It’s just not enough to bring this well-intentioned film to its destination. Get Away If You Can has a few surprises in store for those willing to stay onboard for its duration, but its generic presentation and tepid performances ultimately drag it down long before it gets there.