In keeping with the recent trend of Hollywood remaking critically acclaimed international movies, director Paul Scheuring brings us The Experiment, the imaginatively titled remake of the German movie Das Experiment, a film based (loosely) on the Stanford prison experiment.
In The Experiment, volunteers are paid $1,000 per day to take part in a two-week sociological trial based around the inner-workings of a group dynamic. A disparate bunch of social types are taken to a prison where they are split into a minority (the guards) and a majority (the prisoners).
Only the guards are given rules within which the trial is to be played out, five simple regulations which they need to ensure are followed in order to ensure that the experiment remains on track. In order to keep the guards in check, the doctor leading the trial tells them any failure to follow the five simple rules will result in non-payment of their participation fee. The all powerful red light in the control room will be switched on if the rules are broken.
What follows is effectively a character study between Travis (Adrien Brody) and Barris (Forest Whitaker) who are split as prisoner and guard, respectively. After befriending each other at the original interviews they end up at loggerheads playing out their roles. Travis and Barris are at opposite ends of the social sphere with the former being a pacifist hippy, a trendy guy with a beautiful girlfriend and liberal, atheistic outlook on life, whereas as the latter is a god-loving, 42-year-old virgin who still lives with his oppressive mother.
The film is shot in chronological order with short flashbacks to the entry interviews, and within only a few days power is established in both the prisoners and guards. However, the sheer speed of the turnaround is both illogical and unlikely.
This is not the only flaw in the movie; the second is the contrived nature of the subjects with an emo in the guards, a Nazi ex-con, in the prisoners. However, the character exploration for these different groups is not followed through correctly and as such feels that the movie would have almost have been better without the differing demographics as their potential remains unfulfilled.
That said; The Experiment is a compelling movie due mainly to the performances of Whitaker and Brody who are exceptional in their roles as the oppressor and the oppressed. Whitaker is especially terrific as the guard leader and his descent into totalitarian tyrant is fascinating. Brody shows why he is one of the most talented actors around today with his performance, demonstrating a wonderful range of skills as he trips over into rebel leader as the days go by.
The Experiment is an enjoyable film with a great soundtrack. It delivers a gripping story well, but there has to be some criticisms of how fast the experiment spirals out of control and how quickly personalities shift to opposite ends of their atypical behaviour. Of course, without this pace of change the film might have been a bit dull.
DVD extras include: cast and crew interviews, a creation of the film featurette, and the original trailer.