Das Experiment (2002)
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Review Date: September 08, 2002
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Writer: Don Bohlinger, Christoph Darnstädt, Mario Giordano
Producers: Marc Conrad, Norbert Preuss, Friedrich Wildfeuer
Moritz Bleibtreu
Justus Von Dohnanyi
Maren Eggert
Loosely based on the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, this film tells the tale of 20 men who volunteer to take part in a German experiment which assigns half of them as prison guards and the other half as prisoners for a period of 14 days. The experiment, which is under controlled supervision and will pay each man 4000 marks, has certain rules and guidelines to follow, but it isn't long before the human emotion factor kicks in and das "real" experiment begins. Germans ensue.
I was expecting a lot more out of this picture. With a premise as ripe as the one featured here, you would think that a movie which lasts a little under two hours, would get a lot more excitement generated before its hour and a half mark. Unfortunately, I was just sitting there, waiting patiently at first, and ultimately a little impatiently, for the experiment to produce more than just your predictable back and forths between inmates and guards. Perhaps the so-called "escalation of violence and humiliation" wasn't as shocking to me as it seems to have been for others (the film has received many top accolades from around the world), but I really didn't get pulled into its apparently "appalling" story-line until the very end (shaving a man's hair off isn't exactly the worst thing that can happen to someone in jail). And no matter how original the concept is, and how it's apparently based on an actual circumstance (although the filmmakers make sure to let the audience know that all characters and events are "fictional" before the games begin), the bottom line is that it takes place in a prison environment and having seen many of those types of films before, a number of which were extremely gripping, I simply wasn't affected by this one's apparent ability to tense others up. It certainly seemed to want to be something different and daring, but ultimately, it barely built up any tension through its first three-quarters, and even though its final 30 minutes did put a torch under the proceedings, it simply did not make up for the, more or less, standard fare which came before it. The directing was also competent, but I think it could've been a lot more visceral in an environment as such. The green lighting during the night sequences were cool, but the intensity, the palpable mounting of frustration wasn't as tangible, in my experience.

The actors, on the other hand, were all very solid, especially the lead, Moritz Bleibtreu, who provided for an engaging centerpiece. And even though I didn't think that the film built up much tension early on, I will admit to being involved for most of its way, since the experiment itself was intriguing on its own. But that wasn't the film's only problem, it also featured one rather large subplot about this woman who the lead character just met, and her presence took up a lot of time, most of which seemed superfluous to the story at hand, and quite frankly, unbelievable (they met for one evening and suddenly they're so close?) There were also a number of small plot holes which pulled me out of the proceedings from time to time, including the fact that the two main doctors of the experiment just happened to be absent during one very crucial moment in the trial, a screwdriver which magically appeared for one of its characters and the whereabouts of one very "special" walkman. The film did however provide for some surprising insight into the behavior of human beings under controlled circumstances and its psychological effects, the jail sets were crisp and effectively claustrophobic, the acting was solid by all involved (that dude who looked like Udo Kier was especially good) and the final third was a lot more involving, complete with chaos, blood and suspense for everyone. Whether or not you'll be interested enough to stick around for that long...is another question.

PS: This film seems to be dividing viewers into two groups: those who really get affected by it all and those who don't (kind of like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT). If the premise interests you, I would still suggest that you give this unique picture a shot anyway...just to see where you stand. BTW, this film is in German with English subtitles and features plenty of swinging dicks and ass...if that's your ballgame.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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