Escape at Dannemora, currently airing on Showtime, feels like one of those dramas designed not to be seen but to win awards for a premium cable network in need of the attention, as the streaming wars threaten to turn the network into not just the forgotten step-sister of HBO but of the entire television ecosystem (for many, Showtime is that network we subscribe to during only certain parts of the year while Shameless or Billions is airing). It’s proven to be successful, as the series has already shown up among the Golden Globe nominees and the Critics’ Choice nominees, to name a few.
Being critically beloved is not a knock against Escape at Dannemora, but it really is the sort of show designed to be appreciated, rather than to be entertained by. Directed by Ben Stiller and based on the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility escape, Escape is brilliantly acted and smartly written, but relatively slow-moving (through four of the seven episodes, they still have not escaped). It’s a seven-hour series that could largely be reduced to a great Better Call Saul montage: There is strong acting and incredible craftsmanship on display, but there are moments where I find myself giving the hurry-it-up motion to my television screen. I can only watch Paul Dano saw through a heating duct for so long.
In any respect, one of the most remarkable things about Escape at Dannemora is the physical transformation of the lead actors on this series. I wouldn’t say that Benicio Del Toro, Paul Dano, Patricia Arquette, and Eric Lange show striking similarities to their real-life counterparts, but they certainly captured the spirit of those people. They look not like Hollywood actors, but like people who either are in prison or who have lived in Dannemora, New York, all their lives. In other words, they look as though they have been put through the wringer. The transformations, particularly with Arquette and Lange, are insane.
Here’s Del Toro, whose transformation has been the least dramatic.
Paul Dano changes up his look enough for most of his parts that there’s barely even a frame of reference for what he is supposed to look like in real life, but in Escape, it’s never lost on me that he’s playing a prideful shitkicker serving life in prison for murder.
It took me a minute or two in the opening episode before I even realized that prison seamstress Joyce Mitchell — who aided David Sweat and Richard Matt in their escape — was being played by Patricia Arquette, who went all in on her physical transformation. There is barely any evidence remaining that this is Arquette.
However, the most striking transformation is actually that of longtime character actor Eric Lange, one of those “that guys” perhaps best remembered for his role in Lost.
In a million years, however, I never would’ve guessed that this was Eric Lange without significant evidence proving otherwise.
That is absolute insanity.
It is worth noting, too, that the transformation is more than physical. It is an incredible performance that’s been overlooked because of his co-stars with bigger names, but awards consideration should begin here with Eric Lange. It’s even better in action.
Escape at Dannemora airs Sunday nights on Showtime.
Header Image Source: Showtime