September 16, 2002 12:00 PM

Moritz Bleibtreu, Justus von Dohnànyi

Featured attraction

In this provocative and disturbing German drama (with subtitles), a taxi driver answers a newspaper ad seeking paid volunteers to be confined in a mock prison. A journalist before he switched to steering cabs, Tarek (Bleibtreu) thinks the experiment, sponsored by a prestigious medical institute, might make for a good undercover story. His instinct is right, but the research project goes terrifyingly wrong.

The idea of the experiment is to track, under closely supervised conditions, how the 20 male volunteers behave when assigned to play either prisoners or guards. Badly, it turns out. The guards become sadistic bullies and the prisoners, including Tarek, are soon cowering. Das Experiment takes on added resonance because of its provenance, an idea made explicit when a prisoner calls the nastiest of the guards a “Nazi.”

First-time feature director Oliver Hirschbiegel, who after this is a good bet to get a call from Hollywood, deftly establishes his characters and sets them against each other. His movie grabs you early and doesn’t let go. (R)

Bottom Line: A success

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