DVD Review: The Stanford Prison Experiment

Stanford1_STUDIO: IFC | DIRECTOR: Kyle Patrick Alvarez | CAST: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Olivia Thirlby, Tye Sheridan, Keir Gilchrist, Michael Angarano, Thomas Mann
RELEASE DATE: 11/17/15 | PRICE: DVD $19.99
BONUSES: featurettes
SPECS: R | 122 min. | Drama thriller | 2.40:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

Based on the stranger-than-fiction true story of the infamous 1971 psychological experiment wherein college students played the roles of a prisoner or a guard in a manufactured jailhouse environment, The Stanford Prison Experiment attempts to dissect the personalities at play behind the scenes.

Billy Crudup is Dr. Philip Zimbardo in The Stanford Prison Experiment.

Billy Crudup is Dr. Philip Zimbardo in The Stanford Prison Experiment.

Billy Crudup (Almost Famous) as Dr. Philip Zimbardo, creator and overseer of the experiment, is an elder statesman of sorts, leading a diverse ensemble of young talent—including Michael Angarano (Haywire), Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Jack Kilmer (son of Val), James Wolk (For a Good Time, Call…) and Olivia Thirlby (Margaret).

Ultimately, the film fails to explore the most interesting idea it suggests—that the experiment went awry not because sadistic authoritarianism is baked into the prisoner/guard dynamic (as Dr. Zimbardo posits), but because people tend to follow the strongest leader, even when that leader goes off the rails.

Shot in widescreen, Jas Shelton’s cinematography is appropriately claustrophobic and delivers an appropriately dark mood. But uneven pacing and shallow character insights from director Kyle Patrick Alvarez (C.O.G.) keep The Stanford Prison Experiment from being more than a mildly interesting rehash of a notorious tale already familiar to anyone who’s taken Psych 101.


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About Gwen

Gwen Cooper is a movie and TV lover and the author of Homer's Odyssey (no, not the one you're thinking of).