‘Escape at Dannemora’ Review: Ben Stiller’s Riveting Prison Drama, With a Stunning Performance by Patricia Arquette

IndieWire | 11/13/2018 | Staff
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Now the two are reinventing themselves, again. Each transform for the viewer in real time — figuratively for Stiller, quite literally with Arquette — in “Escape at Dannemora,” Showtime’s seven-part limited series about two inmates breaking out of the Clinton Correctional facility in 2015 and the woman who helped them do it. It’s Stiller’s first real drama as a director, and he’s created a thriller with the cold, blue look and feel of classic prison stories like “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Escape From Alcatraz.” Arquette, meanwhile, plays the drama’s pivotal assistant, Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, ditching the soft voice and composed style of recent roles for a brazen upstate accent and 40 pounds gained for the part.

The efforts pay off. Along with stars Paul Dano and Benicio del Toro and writers Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin, Stiller and Arquette make “Escape at Dannemora” an intense, exciting, and character-elevated miniseries. A focus on human error over institutional failings makes for a distinct and gripping experience.

Tilly - Jumpsuit - Escape - Dannemora - Flashback

Introduced first to Tilly, who’s already decked out in a black-and-white jumpsuit, “Escape at Dannemora” is told in flashback, but without cutaways to the present (a la “True Detective”) and with the insight of multiple perspectives. (The writers used a thorough report issued by the state to nail down the details.) Richard Matt (del Toro) and David Sweat (Dano) are two lifers living in the “Honor Block” of the Clinton Correctional facility, a very old, very cold prison housed in the northern New York village of Dannemora. Matt is well positioned on the inside. He can get whatever he wants through his close connection with a guard, Gene Palmer (David Morse), and he often trades original paintings (of everything from cute pugs to Tony Soprano) for favors with the art-loving officer.

Patricia Arquette in “Escape at Dannemora”

Sweat - Matt

Sweat is Matt’s...
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