Escape at Dannemora

TV review by
Jenny Nixon, Common Sense Media
Escape at Dannemora TV Poster Image
Prison break drama has great performances, sloggy pace.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Laws are broken and people are manipulated.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Pretty much every character here is a deeply flawed individual. Many characters abuse their power and are manipulative.

Violence

The show centers on a prison break, and the two criminals at the center of it are both convicted murderers. Given the subject matter and setting, there are a good number of references to past grisly crimes, and there's some threatening behavior on the part of the cops and inmates. There's a gunfight that ends in a death.

Sex

Multiple sex scenes, mostly clothed and quick, though male and female buttocks are sometimes briefly seen.

Language

"Damn," "hell," "bitch," "f--k," "s--t."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Multiple bar scenes full of drinking. Prisoners drink homemade booze in their cells. Lots of smoking by various characters.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Escape at Dannemora is an eight-part drama series based on the true story of a prison break in upstate New York. It's directed by Ben Stiller and stars Benicio Del Toro, Paul Dano, and a nearly unrecognizable Patricia Arquette. There are references to some pretty grisly crimes (the two inmates who escape are both convicted murderers), and your usual scenes of prisoners pushing each other around trying to assert their dominance behind bars. A character is shot and killed by police. There are multiple sex scenes, mostly clothed, but male and female buttocks are sometimes seen. Characters are frequently shown smoking and drinking, but it's not portrayed as glamorous -- the whole vibe here is definitely one of broken down and depressed people. 

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What's the story?

ESCAPE AT DANNEMORA is a mini-series based on the notorious real-life prison break which happened in the upstate New York town of the same name back in 2015. Prison employee Tilly Mitchell (Arquette) -- apparently craving an escape of her own from her lackluster marriage and bleak town -- becomes sexually involved with two inmates, Richard Matt (Del Toro) and David Sweat (Dano) and ultimately conspires to help the pair break out, funneling in tools and supplies for them. The series details the backgrounds of the main players involved, the planning and execution of the prison break, as well as the intense manhunt and fallout which followed.

Is it any good?

Though this series gets the tone right, and the all-star cast is doing some of the best work of their careers, it's a struggle to understand why the story needed to be stretched out to eight episodes. Escape from Dannemora draws its inspiration from an outlandish and gritty true story, and Ben Stiller does an impressive job at playing it straight and much darker than his past directorial efforts. Watching Arquette's frumpy, restless Tilly manipulate and be manipulated by these canny criminals is a real joy to watch. Del Toro turns in a solid performance as Richard Matt, a charismatic con man who enjoys his status of king of the prison block, who also happens to be a surprisingly adept painter.

Dano is likewise impressive as the quieter, yet still cunning David Sweat, all working-class machismo with a sensitive side. These men are murderers, though, and the show doesn't pull punches when it finally delves into their past crimes. That being said, the series takes far too long to set up and roll out its basically simple plot, and the pace can wear on you after a while. Still, it's worth checking out to see these actors doing some majorly solid work with what they're given, and to check out Stiller's skillful -- if overly long -- filmmaking.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what might draw someone like Tilly to people like Richard Matt and David Sweat. Do you believe her assertions that she was manipulated into these relationships?

  • Escape at Dannemora attempts to show the grim reality of prison life and the way the corruption of the people who work there can play a role in an institution's dysfunction. What sort of accountability should there be for the powers that be when an event like this prison break occurs?

  • Families can talk about movies based on true stories. Are the characters and events often realistic and believable?

TV details

For kids who love crime drama

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