REVIEW: Patricia Arquette makes ‘Escape at Dannemora’ resonate

November 18, 2018

Patricia Arquette constantly amazes.

In “Boyhood,” she raised the curtain on a single mom’s not-so-ideal life. In “Escape at Dannemora,” she shows us what could possibly lead a woman to conspire with criminals.

The performances are so real, so raw, they make you understand immediately what would ever prompt someone to react the way she does.

Based on a 2015 prison break, “Escape at Dannemora” finds Arquette as Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, an inmate supervisor in the tailor shop. She thinks letting her charges listen to pop music is going to increase productivity and improve their lives. She’s naïve, of course, but she’s also trapped in her own prison. Married and living in a bleak town, she wants her own escape. Through two inmates, she finds excitement and a glimmer of hope.

Both have sex with her; both see her as their ticket out.

Director Ben Stiller doesn’t rush to judgment or push the more outrageous moments of this true story. He lets the activity play out and, in the process, shows how Arquette’s Tilly became a lightning rod for everyone.

When she sees the kinds of portraits Richard Matt (Benicio Del Toro) paints, she’s immediately smitten. That opens the door for his bigger plan and begins the spiral that takes their friend David Sweat (Paul Dano) with them.

Stiller doesn’t glamorize anything. He also doesn’t make the Clinton Correctional facility seem like a kill-or-be-killed kind of place. It’s filled with danger but if someone maneuvers correctly, it isn’t another “Oz.”

Indeed, “Dannemora” looks more civil than we’d think. It has its own caste system and an atmosphere that doesn’t seem any worse than the one in Dannemora, a dank, once-industrial town.

Divided into several parts, “Escape at Dannemora” takes its time before throwing in those a-ha moments. When the escape actually happens, we’re all in, ready to see how it transpired and how the two plan to avoid a manhunt.

While Del Toro gives this his usual spin, Dano offers up moments we didn’t expect. He’s there with Arquette, matching her, emotion for emotion.

Like a streaming series (or a page-turning book), this demands attention. It says plenty about correctional institutions, but it also humanizes those who populate them.

In small roles, Bonnie Hunt and David Morse also shine.

The miniseries, though, belongs to Arquette, who’s destined to get an Emmy to go along with her “Boyhood” Oscar. She’s the kind of performer who gives realism a good name.

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