When it comes to exciting prison break dramas, the first season of Prison Break set a very high bar to reach. Based on a true story, Escape At Dannemora is a valiant effort at dethroning that season, one that mixes compelling performances from its lead actors with impressive camera work and cinematography. While this 7 part mini-series makes for an enthralling watch, at times the slow pace does hold the series back from being more exciting.
The story begins in June 2015 with prison employee Tilly being interviewed by authorities. A solitary, rotating shot sets the scene, introducing us to the exquisite camera work and vision introduced by Director Ben Stiller. From here, the story jumps back to January where we meet two inmates, Sweat and Matt, who both become romantically involved with Tilly, all the while plotting an escape from the upstate New York Jail.
Each episode signifies another month passing and the hour long length helps get us accustomed to the exhausting, methodical methods of plotting their escape and just how much effort and time went into this, brick by brick and pipe by pipe. It’s something that’s actually much better captured here than in many other shows and it’s one of the main draws of the series. This all gravitates toward the peak fifth episode where the two inmates escape and are forced to improvise on their plan when things go awry.
It’a at this point where Escape From Dannemora loses some of its momentum, using the penultimate episode to jump back in time to 2002 where we see the lives of these three key characters before they become entangled together. It’s an interesting choice but one that ultimately kills the momentum going into the final feature length episode. The finale does well to bring the focus back though, delivering an exciting and thrilling end to this 7 episode mini-series.
While the story is let down somewhat by its pacing and structure, when it comes to the acting and cinematography, Escape At Dannemora is exemplary. All three leads are ezcellent in their roles but it’s ultimately Patricia Arquette’s acting as Tilly that holds the crown for best performance here. The subtlty in her role as the exasperated prison employee desperate to escape the mundanity of her life is perfectly captured here. This is helped along by some really impressive camera work with interesting shots used to emphasize each scene.
When it comes to the soundtrack, Escape At Dannemora features an eclectic mix of pop, rock and instrumental tracks. Hearing “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor or “Bills” by Lunchmoney really shouldn’t fit with the tone of this bleak prison break story but somehow it slots in perfectly alongside the unusual camera movements and use of long shots. Throughout the 7 episodes there’s a really good use of sound design too, especially during the montage segments as they focus on the three key characters.
Escape At Dannemora is not without its problems but you’ll be hard pressed to find another prison drama as stylish and well acted as this one. While not quite as exciting or blockbuster-esque as Prison Break’s first season, Escape At Dannemora is still a fine example of how to do a true story justice while flexing your artistic muscle in the process. If this isn’t up for some acting awards this year I’ll be very surprised as Escape At Dannemora is an excellent mini-series, one well worth checking out if you haven’t already.