Escape at Dannemora (2018– )
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The lead ensemble is excellent. Paul Dano as David Sweat is conflicted. He almost seems like he's really trying to be a "good" person, but what kind of guidance and support can he expect from his peers in the prison system? Richard Matt is calculating, you can tell he could go off the handle at any second. Patricia Arquette as Joyce "Tilly" Mitchell is absolutely perfect in her role as a middle aged woman unhappy with her marriage and becoming smitten with the idea of escaping to someone that she thinks will bring her more happiness. I wanted to say that she stole the show, but Paul Dano and Benicio Del Toro are just as great - there really are no weaknesses at all. I should also comment that the last two things that I saw Benicio Del Toro in were Avengers: Infinity War, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Both of those films saw Del Toro playing characters that were strange, very quirky. After those two (also enjoyable) films, it was fantastic to see him take this role and make a convicted murderer relatable on a human level, it was a joy to watch on screen. Paul Dano's David Sweat is a character that interests me because even though I live in Plattsburgh, David Sweat is the person that I heard least about in all of the press coverage when these events were actually happening. We all knew about Joyce Mitchell, and of course how things end with Matt, but I don't think David Sweat was personified nearly as much in the media, so I'm extremely excited to see how his story arc plays out. It's even more intriguing because director Ben Stiller was able to contact the real David Sweat in prison, giving this production a very real air of authenticity.
Continuing on with authenticity, it is extremely important to note that extreme efforts were made to replicate what really happened. This show was shot on location. The shots of Dannemora, the prison, Malone, Plattsburgh, even the manhole that the prisoners escaped to, are all the actual locations. Yes, the prison walls really do tower above the rest of the town, as shown in one of the opening establishing drone shots. Governor Cuomo was involved in shooting, as well as many locals who experienced these events first-hand. There were open casting calls in Plattsburgh for extras - hundreds of people showed up, and every single person got an audition. Not everyone was cast, but no one was turned away from an audition. Many of the people in this show really do live here. One excellent scene showed Tilly Mitchell and her husband discussing their weekend plans in the car. Her husband suggests taking her to Plattsburgh for the weekend, to which she responds, "Fancy". It's such a small moment, but the joke was purely for the North Country residents, (as none of us in Plattsburgh refer to Plattsburgh as 'fancy') and the entire theater laughed out loud. I believe this show doesn't single any of the residents out to look 'bad', it merely intends to capture the spirit of the people living in the North Country, and it does an excellent job.
Overall, this story is quite serious - the subject matter is gritty no matter how you slice it. However there are moments of levity that are unexpected in a prison show, but are very much appreciated. One way that this is accomplished is with the fantastic musical score. One of my favorite moments was a montage of prisoners working at sewing machines, while LunchMoney Lewis' 'Bills' played over the scene, a great nod to the fact that the prisoners are essentially slave labor. This is a serious show that is likely going to get pretty dark once the prisoners escape, but there are also (at least, in the first episode) moments of subtle humor that will pleasantly surprise you, without detracting from the experience at all. This is a show that you'll definitely enjoy watching, and then keep talking about it after it airs. Finally seeing this show after living through both the real-life events, and all of the buzz surrounding the filming is very satisfying. Ben Stiller has done an excellent job with Escape at Dannemora, and I'm very excited to see what he has for us next.
I'm hooked. Great camera work, well-thought out storyline and interesting characters. Benicio Del Toro has always been an acting tour de force and this might end up being his best yet. Impressive performances from Patricia Arquette and Paul Dano who have transformed themselves superbly for their roles. The real surprise for me and many others would be the directing chops of Ben Stiller. Props for giving this an honest treatment, choosing great filmmaking locations and the use of music adds a really nice touch to this prison break drama.
Looking forward to the next episodes and of course a thrilling series finale! My favourite moment so far is easily Benicio Del Toro's guttural - DON'T TELL ANYBOOOOODDDYYYYYY.
Here we see the story of Joyce "Tillie" Mitchell, a dowdy, 50ish woman who runs a sewing workshop at the prison. She has entered into a sexual relationship with one of her wards, David Sweat, who is incarcerated for killing a sheriff's deputy. They have rushed trysts in an adjacent storage room, a seemingly open secret among the inmates who labor over needles and bobbins.
Lurking on the sidelines is inmate Richard Matt, played with incredible intensity and subtlety by Benicio del Toro. Behind bars for killing his boss and a guy at a bar, he's a kind of fixer; inmates approach him when they want perks or privileges, which can be arranged through a corrupt prison guard (David Morse) who's tight with Matt. (Though paints are contraband, the guard encourages Matt's talent as an artist, going so far as to commission a birthday portrait of his girlfriend.)
The characterizations here are strong. Patricia Arquette is mesmerizing as Tillie, a woman who seems alternatingly dim-witted and abusive of her power. She appears pathologically bored with her life and scarily vulnerable to the attention of men. There is a chilling glimpse of Tillie on a blustery upstate street on which she catches the eye of a stranger and slowly breaks out into a monstrous smile. Tilly is rough and impatient with her husband, Lyle, who's heard rumors about his wife but doesn't seem up to the challenge of confronting her.
Sweat (Paul Dano) is portrayed as a joyless and desperate tool of manipulation. He seems to get nothing out of sex with Tillie, but, with his ADHD-type impatience and hair-trigger temper, he seems to have no one else in the world with whom to share a moment of connection.
Music is used to powerful effect in this production, which unfurls in the cold, northernmost reaches of New York State. We hear "From the Beginning" by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; "Girl from the North Country," performed in a haunting duet featuring Johnny Cash; "Bills"; "Booty Like a Cadillac," and "With Her Wine Stain Lips Yeah She Nothing But Trouble" by Nick Jonas. I know the story here, so it's not really a surprise to me, but, as a woman in her Sixties, much of the music is a revelation to me.
A previous dramatization of this story was also superb -- "New York Prison Break -- The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell," a 2017 Lifetime movie. Though famiiliar, the plotline is indeed gripping. But much of the excitement in this tale derives from watching the characterizations unfold.
I am not a TV-series person and have never binge-watched anything. But this production has me eager for the end of Thanksgiving weekend!
My only quibble with this film is that intimate bits of conversation often come across as inaudible. I don't know what went wrong with the sound recording. Given the intensity of this story, this amounts to a significant shortcoming.
Now comes 'Escape at Dannemora' to join a distinguished line of brilliant TV films beginning with The Sopranos. Breaking Bad, Fargo, True Detective and about a dozen others I could name including the fantastic Game of Thrones. The 90 minute movie is dead; long live the novelistic 8 hour movie. But back to the subject at hand. I've only seen two episodes but I couldn't be more enthusiastic about the writing, the acting,the direction and cinematography of 'Escape at Dannemora'. Good on you, Ben Stiller who knew you had it in you? A grim portrait of life behind bars which reinvents a tired genre. Brilliantly photographed and Patricial Arquette deserves more than one oscar for her performance. We always knew she was a good actress but this performance catapults her to the head of the line. The other cast members keep right up with her, especially Benedicto Del Toro, a really scary man. Well, enough raving, I urge you to get involved with the pathos of this heartbreaking series. .
Look into his story. I am sure he will give quite a tale to tell on his own if so inclined to ask.