The Experiment Oliver Hirschbiegel

The Experiment Oliver Hirschbiegel
Considering its roots in one of the most famous research experiments ever gone wrong, it's a bit of a surprise that this is the first film adaptation of this inherently cinematic story based on true events. In 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment took 20 men, paid them for two weeks worth of work, made eight of them guards and the remaining 12 prisoners. For those two weeks, they lived their roles — in cells or patrolling them, keeping order or disrupting it. The men almost immediately took their roles very much to heart, resulting in acts of escalating cruelty from the guards, and bursts of pique and then submission from the prisoners. This 2001 German film, based on a novel called Black Box by co-screenwriter Mario Giordano, takes the essence of the experiment and flavours it with dramatic elements, some necessary and others not so much. The basic outline is already contained in the events as they occurred and the drama here is primarily played out by two men: Moritz Bleibtreu (a dead ringer for Freddie Prinze Jr.) plays Tarek Fahd, the most outspoken of the "prisoners"; he faces off against Justus von Dohnanyi as Berus, the harshest of the "guards." Despite the fact that the premise essentially lays out the dramatic progress for you, under the direction of Oliver Hirschbiegel, The Experiment is a taut, dramatic and suspenseful piece that plays up the fear in Fahd's eyes as he realises that he's in for trouble, or the virus of corruption spreading amongst the guards. In fact, the only dramatic missteps the film takes are the ones outside the basic premise of the original experiment itself. A "romance" between Fahd (a taxi driver) and one of his female passengers may be lifted from the novel Black Box, but it feels tacky and Hollywood here. The original Stanford Prison Experiment will also be the basis for a new Hollywood film, due next year; the filmmakers would do well to have a look at this experiment for clues about what falls in line and what story elements need to be put in solitary. Extras: Production notes, five trailers. (Lions Gate)