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Review: Experimenter

Peter Sarsgaard stars in Magnolia Pictures' EXPERIMENTER

Trying to figure out why people think and behave the way they do is an extremely difficult process that takes an extended period of time to learn. Even then, having all the answers about that subject is impossible. Experimenter is a film based on a real life person who apparently had that kind of stuff racing through his mind. Being introduced to someone who actually took the time to try to answer those questions could introduce us to even more questions, but that’s not exactly the route this film chose to take.

The experimenter in this film is Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard), a social psychologist who performed controversial experiments on human subjects dating back to the 1960’s. His work stood out during his time and caused many to question his motives, practices and overall approach to his examinations of the human condition. Whether he was viewed as brilliant or a deceptive monster by the public, most came to be intrigued by the results and what he as a psychologist had to say.

When speaking on the studies that are being highlighted, there’s substantial amount of interesting stuff in here, but they never come close to digging very deep into any of it. Not trying to be disrespectful when I say this, but concentrating on the personal life of Stanley Milgram as much as they do wasn’t a good idea. From what is shown here, there isn’t much of that portion of his life that could be considered incredibly interesting. By all accounts, a great deal of his existence outside of his studies seemed fairly tame and normal.

The studies that he led are actually fascinating to me. As a matter of fact, I wanted to hear about those and the results that came along with them. That could have maybe led us to get a better understanding of the way humans think and/or why he even wanted to do such research in the first place. Was it just something that he was simply curious in? Or was it something about himself that drove him to want to learn about people in such a manner? There’s a small trinket of information in there about that stuff, but I don’t know, because they don’t look into it much at all.

After introducing us to Stanley Milgram, his colleagues and the tests that he ran on people back then, Experimenter does begin to lose steam. As it moves along, you can literally feel the movie itself gasping for air as it crawls toward the finish line. This makes a 98 minute movie seem like it’s much closer to a 120 minute movie. We all know that movies need to be a certain length to be considered features, but it’s never a good sign when you’re struggling to reach the ninety minute mark due to lack of material. This is where taking a deeper look into the studies and how they maybe even affected their subjects could have possibly helped.

I do believe that the acting in Experimenter is done quite well by almost all involved. Just about everyone was fun to watch even when they were given only the smallest of parts. These actors are able to make their characters mean something while sometimes turning in authentic, attention grabbing performances. You just wish they actually had more to work with throughout the movie.

The acting is good, the experiments are fascinating, and even the gimmicks that are put to use are at least interesting in their own way. However, more exploration and development were necessary elements in order for Experimenter to become a movie worth recommending. While it doesn’t have the ability to entertain, it does make you want to look into what it’s presenting as far as studies and who we are as humans are concerned. I guess that might make it somewhat palatable for anyone who chooses to watch it at some point.

Rating: PG-13

Director: Michael Almereyda

Peter Sarsgaard
Winona Ryder
Jim Gaffigan
Edoardo Ballerini
John Palladino
Kellan Lutz
Taryn Manning
Anton Yelchin
Dennis Haysbert
John Leguizamo

Film Length: 98 minutes

Release Date: October 16, 2015

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

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