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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Friday, April 15, 2016

Movie Review - Experimenter

Experimenter (2015)
Starring Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder
Directed by Michael Almereyda
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I was not a fan of director-screenwriter Michael Almereyda's other 2015 film, the overly dramatic Shakespearean adaptation Cymbeline, so when I looked at IMDB and saw his participation in Experimenter, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  However, Experimenter presents interesting directorial and screenwriting techniques which don't quite all work, but at least help to present a more unique biopic film than is typically lensed.

Back in 1961, social psychologist Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) formulated a famous experiment in which he tested the complicity of test subjects to obey an authority figure and administer increasingly higher voltages of electricity to strangers. His experiment garnered him accolades and critiques from his colleagues as well as media interest as the years passed.  Milgram's theories proved revolutionary in the psychology world, but the public outcry about his treatment of his test subjects always hung over his works.

Nearly right off the bat, Almereyda takes the unique approach of having Milgram break the fourth wall with the audience.  By having actor Peter Sarsgaard talk directly into the camera, we're immediately jolted into a rather uncommon cinematic situation.  Later, it appears as if Milgram and his wife Alexandra (Winona Ryder) have stepped onto an odd theatrical set with black-and-white scrims as backdrops. Time jumps forward and backward at certain points in the film.  Admittedly, I'm not quite sure if there's a purpose to these unique visual flourishes, but they worked in the flick's advantage by keeping the viewer intrigued without ever seeming too showy or ostentatious.

Sarsgaard is good here as Milgram, although he's fared a bit better in the past.  For a biopic, the film doesn't really give Sarsgaard a lot to chomp on in terms of dramatic moments.  However, he's certainly captivating as is Ryder and the large array of "Hey, I Know That Guy" individuals who pop up for a single scene here or there as either subjects in Milgram's experiments or colleagues of the famous psychologist.  I was always one to say "Phooey!" to psychology in college, thinking that many of the theories were mumbo jumbo, but Experimenter presents Milgram's ideologies in a way that I found accessible and, surprisingly, relatable.  I'm not saying I'm heading back to get a degree in the subject, but the flick is definitely a captivating glimpse into one man's societal theories.

The RyMickey Rating  B-

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