Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) leads a series of experiments similar to the Stanford prison experiment. In Stanley’s experiment, people are told to electrocute a person every time they make a mistake. When some question it, one of the scientists informs him or her to continue. And while most people would like to think people wouldn’t continue such cruelty, the majority keep going up to the highest voltage.
While a fascinating premise that looks at the underbelly of humanity, Michael Almereyda’s direction is cold, clinical, and scientific. The performances are muted, the direction straightforward, the aesthetic cold. This leaves nothing exceptional or brilliant to shine out from the film’s craft.
Therefore, the moments where the film tries to elicit sympathy for its characters, it has lain no groundwork to allow the audiences to connect with these characters. This is particularly true of the final act, which wants to show the human side of its characters. But the feeling it elicits is as cold and indifferent as its subject matter and aesthetic.
All the film has going for it is a fascinating subject. However, bland filmmaking, stilted performances, and dry execution leaves nothing to grasp onto. Perhaps better suited to documentary filmmaking, Michael Almereyda is unable to keep this subject compelling by the time the credits roll.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing