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The Experiment – Review (DVD)

The Experiment

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

IT’S sometimes hard to explain why some films go straight to DVD, while others are undeservedly given a shot at a cinema release.

The Experiment is one that certainly didn’t deserve the DVD fate. It’s a solid thriller, driven by strong performances from two Oscar winning stars, that makes for gripping – if admittedly flawed – viewing.

It is a remake, of course, which borrows heavily – but not shot for shot – from 2001 German film Das Experiment, which was, in turn, inspired by the real-life story of the Stanford prison experiment that was conducted in 1971 by Dr Philip Zimbardo.

The plot follows former care worker Travis (Adrien Brody) who, after losing his job, signs up for what seems like easy money – $14,000- to participate in a two week psychological study aimed at examining how power and control effects human behaviour in a prison setting.

Once there, he is introduced to 26 other people, including the mild mannered Barris (Forest Whitaker) who seems like an immediate friend. But once the men are split into two categories – prisoners and guards – a life and death struggle for control and respect quickly begins to develop, with Travis emerging as the leader of the prisoners and Barris the head of the guards.

Paul (Prison Break) Scheuring’s film may lack the layered complexity of Oliver Hirschbiegel’s original but it remains a tense, well acted affair that makes some interesting observations about society and humanity.

Brody and Whitaker make excellent rivals, and their confrontations provide most of the movie’s best points, but there’s solid support from the likes of Clifton Collins Jr, Ethan Cohn and David Banner.

Scheuring also remains faithful to some of the original’s key plot points (including the harrowing urination scene), while making this Hollywood version leaner and possibly meaner as well, and stripping away several of the characters, including the personnel behind the experiment (who only now appear briefly in the beginning).

A love interest who had a pivotal part to play in the German version is also reduced to the sidelines here, allowing the men to really take centre stage.

And the ending differs slightly… but is still pretty powerful, offering some hope as well as plenty of room for debate.

The Experiment is therefore a worthwhile investment of anyone’s time, particularly if they like their thrillers to be hard-hitting and expertly performed.

It’s by no means a classic, and falls into a lot of prison movie cliché, but it still manages to pack a pretty powerful punch.

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Certificate: 15
Running time: 90mins
UK DVD Release: October 18, 2010