Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Escape at Dannemora ★★★★☆

Everybody loves a bit of prison break entertainment. From timeless films like The Shawshank Redemption and Escape from Alcatraz up to TV’s Prison Break and gaming’s A Way Out, it seems like there is always going to be an interest in it. It’s a timeless genre that has birthed some of the finest pieces of entertainment and is continuing to do so, with one of the year’s best bits of television. Created and written by Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin and directed by Ben Stiller of all people, Escape at Dannemora is addictive, riveting viewing.

The series is based on the true story of the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility escape in upstate New York. The escape prompted a massive manhunt for the two convicted murderers – Richard Matt (Benicio Del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul Dano), who were aided in their escape by a married female prison employee (Patricia Arquette) with whom they both became sexually entangled – although the employee denies this allegation to this day and claims Ben Stiller is “an idiot” and “a son-of-a-bitch liar”. Regardless, this stranger than fiction tale makes for utterly engrossing viewing and plays out like a real edge-of-your-seat thriller, made even more shocking due to the true nature.

But the show isn’t all thrills. Escape at Dannemora is an often excruciatingly slow-paced affair, demanding patience from even the most discerning viewers. This is not Escape Plan starring Sylvester Stallone. This is a real prison break unfolding in front of our eyes, and if reading about any prison escape can tell us anything, it’s that they ain’t like the movies. They require a hell of a lot of prep and lots of work. Thus, this 7-part series does spend a lot of time before and during the break, which might lead some prison break fans to kick off. But where there is a lack of action, there is an abundance of phenomenal acting talent on offer.

Benicio Del Toro and Paul Dano are simply incredible as the convicted murderers embarking on this big escape, both frightening and charming in equal measure. But the series belongs to an unrecognisable Patricia Arquette. How unrecognisable? Well, put it this way – early in the production, Arquette joined in a conversation during a break with some of the other actors on set (including Del Toro). They didn’t recognise her and thought she was a, and I quote, “crazy lady”. As Joyce "Tilly" Mitchell, Arquette delivers a heartbreaking performance of a desperate and entangled woman. She is truly remarkable here, delivering one of the finest TV performances in years. If there is any justice, she will be showered in awards for her work here.

So, is Escape at Dannemora worth your time? Absolutely. But adjust your expectations – while there are edge-of-your-seat thrills to be had here, they are incredibly slow-burning and demand patience from the viewer. If you’re willing to put in the time and attention, you’ll find Escape at Dannemora to be one of the most engrossing and addictive shows of recent years and an absolute masterclass from three stars at the top of their game. Highly recommended viewing.

Sam Love

Escape at Dannemora at CeX

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