Most people are aware that I don’t care for romantic comedies but nothing gets under my skin more than a horrible prison movie. My attempts to forget the movie are usually successful until the next time a similar movie appears in my review pile. Maybe it is the cliché plot, the contrived and stereo-typed characters, or the male on male forced action. How would a movie fare where it simulates the jail experience in a behavioral experiment? I dare to find out.
Travis (played by Adrien Brody is just another drifter trying to get through life. He works part-time at the retirement home until the state cuts back and lays him off. As he considers his options, he attends a peace protest where he meets a rather attractive girl named Bay (played by Maggie Grace) who is also demonstrating. Bay wants to go to India for spiritual enlightenment and wants Travis to join her. Travis however needs some money to make the journey.
The next day, Travis comes across an ad in the paper for a behavioral experiment. He goes to the interview location and awaits his turn. He meets Barris (played by Forest Whitaker), 42 and still lives with his mother and is trying to help pay the rent. They both go in and are given a series of test questions and other data is gathered. After all of the candidates are interviewed and screened, Travis and Barris are among those chosen for a rather bizarre experiment.
The experiment is fairly simple in premise. The research group wishes to simulate a prison setting. Of the twenty-six people chosen to participate, about a third will be picked to be guards and the rest will function as inmates. They will be placed in a mock prison and subjected to rules as set forth by the research group to stimulate order and data for their project. This will continue for a period of two weeks and at the end of the two weeks, each of the participants will be rewarded with $14,000.00.
Of course, there is some fine print to all of this. The inmates will have no civil rights and if they get out of line, the guards will have to determine a sufficient punishment within half an hour or else the red light will go on and the experiment will be over. No money, no second effort, go home. But they assure everybody will be safe and if it gets out of hand, the experiment will be over. It is no surprise that Barris ends up as a guard where Travis becomes an inmate. They are bused down to the facility where they will start the next two weeks of their life.
The experiment starts off innocently, consider it twenty six guys enjoying a get away together. They joke around, play basketball, eat food and talk about women, life back home and other assorted guy things. One of the inmates, Govenor (played by Damien Leake) hits one of the guards, Bosch (played by David Banner) accidentally with a basketball. Punishment must be decided. After some deliberation, it is decided that the inmate should do ten pushups. The inmate initially refuses but when everybody ends up having to do the exercise, he gives in.
Other random events with the prisoners start to happen. We have cafeteria incidents where inmates don’t finish their food. We have a diabetic inmate, Benjy (played by Ethan Cohen) who needs his insulin but the guards think that will be in violation of the rules. Punishment escalates to the point of cruel and unusual. Soon we have two clear sides, one led by Barris and his guards and the other side is led by Travis and the inmates. Will the group make the two weeks and collect their paycheck or will they barely escape with their lives?
The film is based on an experiment which really happened back in 1971 at the Stanford Prison. It is also a remake of a 2001 German film under a similar name (Das Experiment). The concept is somewhat interesting but the execution of the film was a forced excuse to throw in every prison stereotype the director could think of.
First the film’s lone good point, Forest Whittaker. The one saving grace is that Forest plays Barris to a tee. He really transforms from a somewhat mentally retarded guy who lives with his mother into the power hungry leader of the guards. The only downside to his character is that perhaps they didn’t take it far enough but that nothing to do with Forest’s portrayal.
Back to the stereotypes: we get urination on inmates, forced cutting of hair, and everybody’s favorite: man on man rape. I understand this happens in lots of prisons, but couldn’t a director just buck from the curve once in a while and instead focus on the story. I know, it’s a crazy idea but stick with me. Furthermore, if this amount of violence did occur on such a behavioral experiment, there would be civil lawsuits out the wazoo and for a lot more than fourteen thousand.
They do make mention of some kind of court case at the end against the company with all sorts of government implications. However, it is so contrived and Travis still ends up in India with his girl like nothing happened. Oh, he has a broken hand. Awwww. There is no what happens of the other cast members like Barris who I wouldn’t be surprised if he became a real guard or a serial killer. They go nowhere with it, and it was like here we are at the ninety minute mark. Let’s pack up and go home like absolutely nothing happened. No growth, no decline.
*end of spoiler*
The video is in 2.40:1 widescreen presentation in 1080p resolution. The film is very dull, drab and has zilch in the color department. I understand that this is supposed to simulate prison life but I am pretty sure that ninety percent of the movie was done on a very small stage set that had the barest of props. If you had told me that this was a first generation dvd, I would have believed you.
For the audio portion, we get a 5.1 English DTS-HD track. Experiment is all over the place, audio wise. One minute it will be loud enough to wake the dead, the next the dialog will be quiet as a church mouse. There are also times when it will flip flop with the action going to subtle tones and the dialog is out of control. It’s so uneven that it can cause a jarring effect at a few points. One should be able to catch most of the dialog but they will have some difficulty. Subtitles are included for English and English SDH.
- Automatic Trailers: Sony 3d World and Red Hill
- Previews: 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, Game of Death, Harry Brown, The Secret in their Eyes and The Pillars of the Earth
Interestingly enough, this movie went straight to dvd and Blu-Ray despite a $20 million budget. Out of curiosity, was 99% of that budget spent on Brody and Whittaker? There are some minor stars in this movie such as Cam Gigandet who played a guard named Chase but it is largely built on the antics of Brody and Whittaker. The problem is that the film is so contrived and so blatantly stereotypical that it never goes anywhere.
Nobody experiences any real growth and nobody suffers emotional decline. The experiment is over, proceed with your normal lives. Without giving anything away really, people died in there. I’m sorry, perhaps I take the loss of life seriously (unless it is in a Stallone film) but you don’t exactly just get up the next day and go to work. Anyway, the disc isn’t much better and apparently they didn’t take the time to record any extras either. Please avoid this one at all costs, not recommended.