Friday, January 15, 2016

Catching up with one of 2015's best films: Michael Almereyda's knockout EXPERIMENTER

TrustMovies has long had a soft spot for the films of Michael Almereyda, They're odd, certainly, but they've usually hit this viewer in ways that most other movies don't. His latest, EXPERIMENTER -- all about the life, career and experiments of behavioral scientist Stanley Milgram -- is, I wager, his best yet: the most accessible yet different of his entire oeuvre. The experience of viewing it is like sitting in on perhaps the best, most wonderful, rich and expansive high school or college class that you've ever taken: one that combines science, philosophy, behavior, ethics, and a whole lot more. Ever better, this writer/director (shown below) has expanded his own kit of moviemaking tools and tricks to include an array he's never offered up until now.

The result is a film that grabs us from the outset and hold us fast, as we meet Milgram (the always excellent Peter Sarsgaard. shown above, left, and below, right), his soon-to-be wife (the better-than-ever Winona Ryder, above, right, and below, left), and a host of subsidiary characters playing the helpers and participants in Milgram's notable experiments -- the most famous of which (from the 1960s) would be that little ditty in which folk were given instructions to shock their "partner" with increasing doses of electricity whenever a wrong answer was given until they were using enough "power" to render the recipient dead. A wide majority of these fine Americans (and later folk from other countries) willingly obliged -- making clear that the behavior of the Nazis during WWII (doing what they were told, no mater the consequence to other people) was maybe not so far afield from "normal" human behavior, depending on the circumstances. The results of his experiment did not make Milgram particularly popular among his peers (who earlier claimed nothing like this could ever happen) nor among the common folk who preferred to see themselves as, by nature, generally good and kind. More than anything else, I think, Milgram managed to puncture our deep-set capacity for hypocrisy and denial.

How Almereyda brings all this to fruition -- breaking the fourth wall, using an elephant out of nowhere and quite brilliantly, creating the 1960 and 70s with spot-on decor and often completely fake "theatrical" backgrounds, in the process making us understand and accept so much more than most movies even attempt -- educates us and entertain us in equal measure, giving insight into the life and mind of this quite special scientist and man.

In the fine and precisely-chosen supporting cast, a particular standout is Jim Gaffigan, above, playing one of the Milgram's most enjoyable "actor/helpers" in the experiment. From Magnolia Pictures, the movie got a limited theatrical release and some VOD play last year. It's now out on Blu-ray (the transfer looks spiffy indeed!), DVD and digital download. Do not miss it. (Having just watched it the other evening, I am adding it right now to my post on the Best and Most Underseen Movies of 2015. In fact, if TM had a list of "top ten" films, rather than "top 50," Experimenter would probably rest in that tier, too)

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