The acting is uniformly strong and the camera work is winningly claustrophobic, but the film is one note: scene after scene of bullying.
The Stanford Prison Experiment is the kind of movie that raises as many questions as it answers. It's also the kind of film where you want to budget some time for discussion afterward. You won't be able to shake this one off easily.
This is not an uplifting movie, and its progress can be grueling. But it has a lot to say about how we let roles define us, how fragile personalities are and how context shapes reality.
The film works hard to keep up the suspense: how far will the guards go? How much can the prisoners take? At what point, if any, will Zimbardo and his team intervene? And is his experiment scientific? Objective? Humane? Worthwhile?
Watching these young men brutalize each other is troubling enough, but perhaps the film's most interesting angle is how the experiment changes more than its subjects.
J. R. Jones
Billy Crudup gives a fine performance as Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who engineered the whole thing and was then pulled into his own power trip.
The film can be appreciated, if only as a showcase for its assured, emotional attuned performances, as a convincing time capsule and period piece, and as a chance to reconsider one of the more well-known and still-influential studies of its era.
The movie ... inevitably fights against its own sense of dulled outrage and methodical role-playing. But it's pretty gripping all the same.
A riveting re-enaction of the still-notorious study. The young cast is electrifying.