Overlooked Film of the Week-#11
We are defined by the uniforms we wear. Police uniforms, security uniforms and army uniforms seem to carry power. Even a suit and a tie can carry a certain degree of prestige. While most blue-collar work doesn't seem to carry the respect that it deserves in some cases. The amount of power we have in our personal lives defines who we are in ways I believe most of us don't really understand.
"The Experiment" is a movie about just that, an experiment which takes place in a state penitentiary. (The story itself is based upon a 1971 Standford University experiment which went drastically wrong.) A group of men are tested at random and are randomly selected to be prisoners and guards. They are all assured by scientists conducting the experiment that they will be safe. But come on, you really think that is in store for the characters? All of these men volunteer for the experiment for a two week period, after which they each will be paid a $1,400 fee for their participation.
One of the volunteers is Travis (Adrien Brody) a man who is very down on his luck. He wants to go on a trip to India with a lady friend (Maggie Grace) but has no money to do so. He is one of the men selected for the experiment. As the bus pulls up to pick up the selected candidates, Travis makes small talk with Michael Barris (Forest Whitaker) another selected candidate. They seem to hit it off right away, when the candidates make it to the makeshift prison, Travis becomes a prisoner, and Barris a guard.
The guards are given strict orders to keep order within the prison or the experiment is cancelled and nobody gets paid. However, no violence of any kind can be used. You'd think they would all agree to have a great run with the experiment and treat each other with respect. But of course, that would not make for a really exciting movie now would it?
At first, the prisoners pretty much run the show. The guards completely dumbfounded on how to sustain the situation without hitting someone with their nightsticks. Barris suggests to treat the prison like a frat house initiation, intimidating the prisoners with prank-style punishments. However the punishments get much more harsher for the prisoners. As things get worse, the experiment doesn't end. So is this what the scientists wanted all along? A thesis on human nature? Travis and Barris become leaders of two separate factions which leads to all sorts of trouble.
For a direct-to-video movie, I am shocked at how effective the movie is overall. Adrien Brody and Forest Whitaker make the most of their material and create something instantly memorable. The rest of the cast does good work. Cam Gigandet is a young actor who seemed to be apart of everything between the years of 2010 and 2012 then disappeared. He is ultra freaky as a cocky guard who volunteers for the experiment due to his sick animal urges. Clifton Collins Jr is equally creepy as a prisoner who actually spent time in a real penitentiary and was apart of the Aryan Brotherhood. You really got to give to this cast of actors which make this story matter more than it could have.
The film opens with lots of imagery of animals attacking one another. Then quick snippets of humans hurting each other. This movie clearly wants us to think about what drives us to be civilized and what makes us lose complete control. With Barris' character in particular. We learn right away, that he is a strict Mama's boy who never got out much in his 42 years of life. When he finally assumes power over someone, its a powerful experience which he doesn't want to let go of. If we all gained a little bit of unearned power, would we all become corrupt, power-hungry assholes?
Big questions, great acting and tense situations all make "The Experiment" very memorable and worth check out.