Since its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Michael Almereyda's Experimenter has been garnering buzz from critics and audiences alike, with the hype building even more following the film's screenings at the New York Film Festival earlier this month. Almereyda, who spoke with Sloan Science and Film following NYFF, has been recognized by the Sloan Foundation three times for his portrait of Stanley Milgram's infamous obedience experiments, most recently with the inaugural Sloan Film Independent Distribution Grant earlier this year.
The film opens in theaters today, and reviews so far have been widely positive, with critics applauding Almereyda's direction in his most high-profile film to date.
In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis declared Experimenter to be "aesthetically and intellectually playful…Mr. Almereyda has a boundless gift for finding new ways to tell old stories." She praised Almereyda's filmmaking as "restlessly original...Experimenter, as befits its title, is less a straight biography than a diverting gloss on human behavior, historical memory and cinema itself."
Over at the Village Voice, Michael Atkinson concurs, calling the film "a rat-maze of one-sided mirrors, windows upon windows, anonymous hallways, compartmentalized instances of watching, being watched, seeing and not-seeing...like a cellar-lab version of Rear Window, with the characters entranced by the framed-up movie-views of human life in extremis." He also echoed Dargis' praise for the film's direction, writing "One of our lowest-profile indie-film treasures, director Michael Almereyda never makes the same movie twice...Experimenter may be his Zelig or American Hustle, the ironic, icy, self-conscious riff on history that lands him at the front of the cultural brainpan."
Godfrey Cheshire at RogerEbert.com gives the film 3.5 stars out of 4, calling it "the most pleasingly cerebral of recent American films." He goes on to praise Almereyda's directing choices, writing "In most movies, no doubt, we would be kept in doubt about the experiment’s real nature until we’d seen at least one Learner shocked to the breaking point. But Almereyda tosses away the possibility of suspense and shows us what’s going on from the first. Filmed with a cool, Kubrickian detachment, these scenes align our p.o.v. not with the experiment’s participants’ but with the scientist’s (and by extension, the filmmaker’s). Rather than conventionally dramatic, the effect is wry, inquisitive, even darkly comic."
In New York Magazine, David Edelstein applauds the film's staging, writing "Michael Almereyda clearly sees his protagonist as a master of stagecraft as well as psychology, and he gives the movie a whiff of the circus — a gorgeous, photorealist circus, often against tinted black-and-white backdrops that push its ringmaster into the foreground." He calls the film, "uncannily beautiful...a palette of blue-grays and cool greens that’s like a Platonic dream of social science before the counterculture blew out the walls." Edelstein concludes his review with a final accolade for its director: "The movie ends with Milgram asserting we can be puppets but still have free will — which would be even freer if we could learn to 'see the strings' on us...Almereyda shows us the strings."
Experimenter is in theaters now.