The Experiment, like so many other remakes of foreign films, found no love from a studio willing to push it out to theaters and instead was forced onto DVD and Blu-ray without so much as a whisper. A bit strange for a film with two Oscar winners in the lead roles—but, as they say, thems the breaks. Now as a reviewer I’m saddled with the responsibility of looking at this obviously poorly executed film in an effort to try and make some kind of sense out of its absolutely ridiculous pacing and plot.
Oscar® winners Adrien Brody (Best Actor, The Piano, 2002) and Forest Whitaker (Best Actor, The Last King of Scotland, 2006) star in this mind-shattering psychological thriller from the creator of TV’s “Prison Break.” Selected to participate in a two-week research project, a group of men agree to play inmates and guards in a simulation of life within a state prison. But as the 24 volunteers slip deeper into their roles, power corrupts, fears escalate and the experiment spins horribly out of control. Cam Gigandet (Twilight), Clifton Collins Jr. (Crank: High Voltage) and Maggie Grace (TV’s “Lost”) co-star in this intensely shocking film.
It’s not quite as devastatingly terrible to watch as a film where a man is blackmailed and placed in prison, forcing him to either go against his own moral code or something similarly unbelievable. No, this film actually has a basis in reality somewhat (Google the “Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971”—you’ll find some interesting history lessons), but the ultimate execution of it left me wishing they had tried a little bit harder in delivering the goods. The premise itself is very enticing and I actually had a slight glint of hope that hit wouldn’t descend into absurdity…but my initial fears were proven correct and by the time the film ends, you cannot wait to eject the disc.
The main issue with the film is that we’re supposed to watch these men slowly transform from who they were into the roles that they’re attempting to play for money. It’s something akin to greed making you mad or something along the lines of that—basically speaking though it sounds like an actors dream to jump into not only one but essentially two characters. Who gets a chance to do that unless you’re playing someone with a split personality? In any case, the idea is certainly an enticing one and you cannot wait for its execution…except it never really happens. These men we’re introduced to don’t just slowly transition as much as a switch is flipped at some point during the film and they go from nice to…well, not so nice. Brody’s a bit more gradual in this I’ll admit, but Whitaker just about slams it down your throat with little regard.
It’s really a shame the film ended up being as shallow as it is, because it is a genuinely interesting concept. But there was just no gradual progression—it went from 20mph to 80mph without shifting so it resulted in this mess of a story that ended up feeling more rushed than anything. With a character piece as possibly drastic and disturbing as this, it could’ve extended well behind the hour and a half (the uncut original German film was two hours long) that this one runs. It’s kind of a shame that the film wasn’t able to become more than it ultimately was—it definitely had the requisite talent to drive it out, it just wasn’t there in the script. All this film is really good for is seeing a buff Brody (likely leftover from his Predator bulk up) look like Jesus and a timid Whitaker go crazy by the end of it. Of course that may sound like a lot of entertainment, but trust me—it’s short lived as the actors gradually move their mannerisms and acting into gradually hammier and goofier territory as the film wraps up.
Overall a Rental. I hope Brody and Whitaker don’t continue their streak of disappointing films, as neither has pulled off anything remotely as impressive as what they got their Oscar’s for.
The set itself arrives in a standard single-disc Elite Blu-ray case without any kind of slipcover or anything. Inside is a barren case with just the lonely disc. Menus are simple and easy to navigate and extras…well, we’ll tackle that amazing element in a paragraph or so.
Video is an AVC encoded 1080p effort and as usual it looks great. There isn’t a whole lot on this disc to fight for space so the film features a healthy transfer and it looks spectacular—film like sequences that add a gritty realism to the series. I was surprised by how similar looking it was to Prison Break at times but then I realized it was written, produced and directed by Paul T. Scheuring (who created Prison Break) and it all made sense. It’s a pretty nice looking little transfer and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is decidedly kind of overkill on a film like this so it’s no surprise that the surrounds barely make a whisper most of the time, sans for the occasional inmate holler or hoot. Same for the LFE really—it’s a pretty mundane audio mix but it serves its purpose when the action sequences do kick in.
Extras are…zilch. Absolutely zero extras are on this disc, which is a shame as I would’ve liked to at least hear Scheuring defend this on a commentary or talk about the massive jump from B-level Fox TV show to a movie with Oscar winning actors in it…but oh well. Guess it’s not worth it in the end. Overall, as with the film itself, a strict Rental.
The Experiment arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on September 21st.