The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015) Movie Review: The Chilling Experiment Comes to Life

Drinking Game

Take a Drink: during each shocking moment

Do a Shot: for each recognizable actor

Take a Drink: to Michael Angarano’s amazing accent

"Thought you were gonna get some play time in the yard boy."
“Thought you were gonna get some play time in the yard, boy.”

Take a Drink: each time a prisoner acts out

Take a Drink: each time a character breaks down

Community Review


Movie Review

By: Matt Conway (Two Beers) – 

It seems that young actors get a bad rap these days. Often times, young actors are just expected to be merely competent, as most of the time they are viewed as a crippling force in movies. As of late, however, there have been a great deal of young actors that have truly broken out and become fixtures in film. The cliche that kids can’t act certainly is not the case anymore.

Except this kid...
Except this kid…

With that being the case, The Stanford Prison Experiment was very much on my radar. Featuring a phenomenal ensemble of young actors including Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, and Thomas Mann, and fantastic word of mouth out of Sundance, the film certainly seemed to have potential. Thankfully, The Stanford Prison Experiment is able to live up to that potential, being an incredibly thought-provoking and gripping film.

The Stanford Prison Experiment follows the infamous experiment that gathered twenty-four male students. Dr. Philip Zimbardo split them up into two groups, guards and prisons, to simulate prison life. The results were truly astounding.

A Toast 

The Stanford Prison Experiment establishes an ever-present sense of dread from the first scene. Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez helps in doing so with the film’s aesthetics, delivering a very cold, calculated approach. Cinematograper Jas Shelton shoots the film incredibly well, with the tightness of each shot capturing the character’s emotions. The score by Andrew Hewitt is also quite fitting, adding to the film’s eerie nature.

Tackling such an important subject like this with a journalistic approach is a big risk. Last year’s Foxcatcher attempted the same, and was met with largely mixed results. Here with a story whose intrigue is so rich, there really doesn’t have to be too much digging around to find thought-provoking moments. Scribe Tim Talbott deserves a lot of credit for staying true to what happened, and not sugar-coating what went down.

Still can't believe that is Steve Carell.
Still can’t believe that is Steve Carell.

For a film like this, it was really going to be made or broken by its performances. Thankfully, the gifted young ensemble deliver some truly fantastic performances. Some of the prisoners, such as Ezra Miller and Ty Sheridan, who play rebellious loud-mouths, are far more showy, with several break downs by both really shocking the audience. On the other hand, Jack Kilmer and Johnny Simmons deliver more subdued performances, while still showing the ways the experiment changes them over time.

Standing out from the crowd is Michael Angarano, who plays a prison guard who gets really caught up into his role. With his Southern accent and attempts to emulate John Wayne, Angarano’s performance could have easily felt over the top and shticky. However, he balances the comedy of his whole routine beautifully with the dark places he takes the character. As the film goes on, his character gets more and more disturbing, a testament to Angarano’s work. He is seriously worthy of awards attention come awards season.

And to think he was so nice in Sky High...
And to think he was so nice in Sky High…

While most of the attention goes to the younger cast members, the older members of the cast also deliver solid performances. Billy Crudup has always been one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, and delivers another great performance here. He portrays his character’s dilemma of whether or not to continue the experiment in an honest way. Olivia Thirlby and Nelsan Ellis also deliver solid work in smaller roles.

The Stanford Prison Experiment also packs a big punch emotionally. The toll taken on the prisoners and shocking lengths the guards go to are hard to watch at times. Despite the experiment happening long ago, there is a timeless feel to it, as its ideas and results are very much still relevant to today. The film will certainly leave most of its audience with a great deal to think about.

Beer Two

The Stanford Prison Experiment‘s sole flaw is its length. At 122 minutes long, the film as a whole feels over-long. When a film is just drear and dread, the constant bombardment can really drain an audience while viewing it. This especially felt to be the case in the second act, as no new interesting developments made the film feel very bogged down.


While it could be a bit tighter, The Stanford Prison Experiment is a thought-provoking and shockingly realistic look at the infamous experiment. Certainly one of the best ensemble casts of the year as well, with many of the young actors delivering star-making performances. Check it out now on On Demand.

About Matt Conway

I love movies and sports and run on sentences. You can find me at a basketball court, the local theater, or napping on a couch somewhere.

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