Review: Ben Stiller directs a masterpiece in NY prison-break drama ‘Escape at Dannemora’

You know the story, or maybe just parts of it.

In 2015, two men tunneled out of Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York. They had the help of a civilian woman who worked there, with whom both had sex. A multimillion-dollar manhunt followed. One inmate was shot and killed, the other was captured.

The seedy sexual details and “Shawshank Redemption”-style escape made the story of the prison break ripe for Hollywood treatment, and that’s exactly what Showtime has given it in “Escape at Dannemora,” a limited series starring Benicio del Toro, Paul Dano and Patricia Arquette as the trio at the center of the tale.

What could have been a rote retelling of a familiar news story is instead a transformative work that so vividly brings the drama to life it might as well be brand-new to its audience. Created by Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin, “Dannemora” (Sunday, 10 EST/PST, ★★★★ out of four) features seven episodes all directed by Ben Stiller, who makes a stunning case for becoming a full-time director. His gorgeous and haunting work, combined with a career-best performance from Arquette, helps “Dannemora” transcend into one of the best TV experiences of the year.

“Dannemora” unfolds its story with the same patience and urgency required of inmates to tunnel out of a prison. After a brief opening set during the manhunt for David Sweat (Dano) and Richard Matt (Del Toro), “Dannemora” flashes back months before the escape, when Sweat and Matt work at the prison tailor shop, where they’re supervised by Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell (Arquette).

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