Sunday, November 18, 2018

REVIEW: 'Escape at Dannemora' - Inspiration Strikes for Richard Matt About His Current Imprisonment in 'Part 1'

Showtime's Escape at Dannemora - Episode 1.01 "Part 1"

After the June 2015 prison break from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, Joyce "Tilly" Mitchell is questioned about her involvement with the two men. Months earlier, Tilly enjoys her job at the prison tailor shop, balancing the temptations of David Sweat, a younger inmate, and her obligations to her husband, Lyle. Richard Matt, an inmate with an artistic talent, supplies oil paintings to guards in exchange for special treatment. Ultimately, his attentions turn to Tilly.

In 2018, it has become very difficult to keep up with every television show out there. It's even more difficult to provide adequate coverage on this site about the episodes that air every week. Not every show can get full coverage because of my busy and hectic viewing schedule. As such, some reviews will now be condensed to give only some summary thoughts. But it also affords a space for me to jot down my thoughts on the various episodes. And so, here are my thoughts on this week's episode of Showtime's Escape at Dannemora.

"Part 1" was written by Brett Johnson & Michael Tolkin and directed by Ben Stiller

This is a somewhat agonizing premiere simply because of how long it takes to get the story going. It all starts in June 2015 with the inspector general coming to the prison to interview Tilly about her role in the prison break that saw two inmates escape. That creates a fascinating framing device because it means the rest of the story is essentially flashing back to inform the audience of what Tilly's relationships with David Sweat and Richard Matt were like. Of course, the majority of the running time here is spent on just establishing what day-to-day life was like for these three main players. It's captivating largely because of the central performances from Patricia Arquette, Benicio del Toro and Paul Dano. Those actors give some heft to this material. Even Ben Stiller's direction is quite strong because it establishes the mood of this place which is absolutely depressing and isolating. However, not everything works here. Eric Lange seems to be the only actor actually trying a broad accent. The tension in Tilly's marriage is so vital to the overall story because it explains why she has a sexual relationship with Sweat. However, Lyle isn't enough of a character to really justify every boring aspect of their life being seen right now. It's not agonizing enough nor does it inform what Lyle is like at the prison. Is he as corrupt as the other officers looking over the inmates? He seems to be off in some other corner of the prison even though everyone worries about how he'll react upon learning that his wife is cheating on him. Meanwhile, the soundtrack can be quite jarring at times. Sure, it continues to flesh out this world and the time in which all of this takes place. It's fairly recent. As such, the audience has heard these pop songs on the radio lately. It further showcases how all of this is mostly told from Tilly's perspective. This is music that she likes. It's just weird when Matt confronts Tilly in the work shop only for Nick Jonas to start blaring. It's all eventually played as if Tilly is hearing these songs through the radio. It's a form of escape for her because it's so exciting and relevant. She wants to feel that way. She is very much into continuing this dynamic with Sweat. She has no reservations whatsoever. The inmates and officers already suspect that something more is going on between them. They aren't being all that subtle either. Sweat fears the consequences a little bit more. He is still worried about the world at large even though he's still willing to make gifts for Tilly. He enjoys this dynamic as well. He believes he's being careful. He just doesn't want to push his luck too far. This is the way that he copes with living in this facility. He doesn't have any meaningful connections outside of prison that are willing to help him. The same is also true of Matt. He has just built a system of respect inside to ensure that he gets whatever he wants. He has an arrangement with the guards. He has skills that they appreciate. Gene Palmer is more than comfortable giving him supplies in exchange for a portrait of his mistress. He warns Matt that a surprise room inspection is coming. That provides Matt with the hint that there is a potential way of getting out of this prison. That's when inspiration strikes. That's when it seems like he has a spark of personality. Before that moment, he told Gene that nothing exists within him. He's simply a man in prison who is trading whatever items he can find that can bring him the most momentary pleasure. All of this is bound to end in disaster. In this premiere though, everything seems fairly slow moving - which doesn't justify a 63 minute running time.