As an actor, Eastwood never lets down his guard. His idea of being a real man is that it’s something you have to pretend to be—as Sergio Leone put it, he’s wearing a suit of armor. This actor has made a career out of his terror of expressiveness. Now here he is playing a stiff, a ghost. It’s perfect casting, but he doesn’t have the daring to let go and have fun with it. Even as a ghost, he’s armored.
Escape from Alcatraz opens with the camera panning across San Francisco Bay and the bridge, and then to the grim, gloomy island of Alcatraz. The first sequence, as the credits come up, shows the arrival, through rain and darkness, of a prisoner for the "Rock": it is shot in tight, constricted close- up and mostly in shadow.