Gem Finder: Based on a true story, Escape at Dannemora delivers some top-notch acting

Alexandra Plesa 5 December 2018 NEWS

This intense, character-driven story stars Benicio del Toro, Patricia Arquette and Paul Dano.

We live in the era of peak TV. Streaming services offer thousands of hours of quality content and everyone seems to be recommending you a new series to binge. Through all the noise, there's no wonder some marvellous titles fly under the radar. Here's where we do our best to push them into the mainstream.

What is Escape at Dannemora about?

Escape at Dannemora is a limited docu-drama based on the Clinton Correctional Facility escape which occurred back in 2015. This was an infamous US prison break that happened in upstate New York, where two convicted murderers were aided in their escape by a female prison employee who became romantically involved with them. The prisoners were discovered missing in the early morning and a manhunt ensued.

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Who stars in Escape at Dannemora?

The two prisoners are portrayed by Benicio del Toro and Paul Dano. You might already be familiar with their work. Benicio del Toro is known for his roles in movies like Traffic, Sicario, The Usual Suspects, Snatch, Savages and more. Paul Dano appeared in There Will Be Blood, Little Miss Sunshine and Prisoners, among others. Meanwhile, Patricia Arquette plays the woman who helps the two prisoners escape. You might have seen her in True Romance, Boyhood, CSI: Cyber and Medium, to only name a few.

The main cast also includes Bonnie Hunt, Eric Lange and David Morse.

Where can I watch?

Stan. The first episodes are now streaming.

How many seasons does Escape at Dannemora have?

It's a limited series, so one season. Episodes drop weekly on Stan.

Will I like Escape at Dannemora?

If you're keeping up with peak TV, you have to give this one a shot. Escape at Dannemora boasts some amazing performances, which isn't surprising given the talent of the main cast. Patricia Arquette, in particular, is mesmerising as a middle-aged married woman who longs to be seen, so much so that she becomes romantically involved with two murderers. Watching her both manipulate and be manipulated by the two is a treat. Benicio del Toro and Paul Dano are also great – the former portrays a charismatic conman who is popular among the other inmates, while the latter is more quiet but equally cunning.

Another thing that makes this show stand out from the crowd is the impressive attention to detail. The team behind the series did some serious research, spending about a year before the show started filming learning everything they can about the prison break and the investigation that followed. As a result, Escape at Dannemora strives when it comes to offering context. Don't expect an action-packed drama, instead, the show is more interested in showcasing who these people are and what led them to attempt an escape. It focuses on the psychology of the inmates and staff, taking the time to present events from various angles. As a result, Escape at Dannemora feels intimate and authentic.

The creators manage to squeeze in as much atmosphere and backstory as possible

The series paints a detailed picture of what happened prior to the escape, features the prison break itself and provides insight into the manhunt and investigation that followed. It does a great job of establishing the environment and highlighting the sense of hopelessness that inhabits the prison and affects both the inmates and the staff. Escape at Dannemora would have probably worked as a two-hour movie. However, by making it a limited series, the creators manage to squeeze in as much atmosphere and backstory as possible, delivering a comprehensive account of the notorious 2015 escape. On that note, the show is more docu-drama than thriller.

The only bad thing about Escape at Dannemora is that it can get incredibly slow. It takes a little too long to set up and the pace can be sluggish at times. But keep up with it and you will be rewarded with some fine acting and a memorable story. Since it's a limited series, you don't have much to lose. Also important to note, even if you know how the prison break plays out, the series is still fascinating.

Anything else I should know?

The show is directed by Ben Stiller. That Ben Stiller. He's mainly known for his comedic roles, but let us assure you, there's nothing funny about Escape at Dannemora. Quite the opposite as the show is gritty and dark. This only stands to prove that Stiller can do just about anything.

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