The Experiment (叛獄風雲)
By James Topley, The China Post
October 1, 2010, 1:56 pm TWN
Adrien Brody is known best for his Academy Award winning performance in “The Pianist” (戰地琴人) as a Jew in Nazi-occupied Germany. But during his career he has become a multi-faceted actor playing such versatile roles as a depressed drug-addict, an elite warrior, and even a socially inept ventriloquist.
In “The Experiment,” Brody takes on a role not too dissimilar from his portrayal of a psychologically abused war veteran in “The Jacket” (顫慄時空). In that film he suffered from gulf-war syndrome and was sent to a mental institution for the criminally insane. Here, however, his character chooses to be locked up.
Based on a real life Stanford prison experiment, and a remake of a 2001 German film, “The Experiment” follows a group of 24 male volunteers in a scientific study at a disused penitentiary. Director Paul Scheuring (“Prison Break”), places two Academy Award winning actors at each other's throats.
Travis (Brody) has just been laid off from his job as a care worker for the elderly. He's and all-round good guy, a prominent political activist who meets a like-minded young woman by the name of Bay (Maggie Grace, “Lost” [Lost檔案]), during a peace march. She's intent on traveling to India to discover her inner-peace and Travis decides to go with her. There's only one problem: He's broke.
Spotting an ad requesting male test subjects for a behavioral experiment, he applies and is accepted into the research program. Each test subject is promised US$14,000 for partaking in the 14-day study, wherein they must assume the role assigned to them, either an inmate or a guard for the duration of the stay.
The guards are given a set of rules they must adhere to. No violence, maintain order or the experiment will be shut down and they won't get paid. The experiment is recorded and observed by those running the test and the guards are anxious to avoid any slip-ups in the rules.
Forrest Whitaker (who won an Academy Award for his role in “The Last King of Scotland” [最後的蘇格蘭王]) is Barris, one of the guards, who is initially very timid and indifferent, but he soon takes a sinister liking for his new responsibilities and becomes the leader of the guards, while Travis gets the brunt of his attention by resisting his over-zealous new authority.
Unfortunately there's very little logic in the goings on that ensue, the guards for one take their roles extremely seriously with few actually questioning the judgment of their peers. The prisoners on the other hand are forced to put up with ever increasing acts of abuse by their captors who seek to put fear into them though abuse and punishment.
In just 14 days the characters go from law-abiding citizens to rapists, violent bullies and sadists, committing heinous acts against one another for no apparent reason. And this is where the problem lies: The guards know their roles are temporary yet they choose to cause suffering, often exacerbating situations and eventually they start breaking the rules themselves. It's just nonsense!
Pitting two Academy Award winning actors against one another should supposedly result in a successful formula, yet Scheuring doesn't seem to have put much thought into anything else. What we're left with are some truly gruesome scenes with very little psychological study left to dwell upon. It's not so much an insight into the human psyche as it is an insight into what prison life might be like. But the script is just too farfetched to be believable.
► Directed by Paul Scheuring / With Adrien Brody, Forest Whitaker, Cam Gigandet, Clifton Collins Jr. and Fisher Stevens / Thriller / USA / 2010 / 96 min. / Rated R for strong disturbing violence including a rape, language, some sexual content and nudity / English with Chinese subtitles / ★★☆☆☆ / Now Showing