Starred Up (tbc)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner10/10/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 105 mins

Gripping and sharply written British drama that offers an intriguing twist on the usual prison movie clichés and features a star-making performance from Jack O'Connell.

What's it all about?
Directed by David Mackenzie, Starred Up (a prison term referring to a young offender transferred to an adult prison for excessive violent behaviour) opens with teenager Eric Love (Jack O'Connell) being processed, stripped and shown to his jail cell as he's transferred to an adult facility where his estranged father Nev (Ben Mendelsohn) is also an inmate. Shortly afterwards, Eric runs foul of the prison authorities when he violently beats a fellow prisoner in the mistaken belief that he was under attack; in the subsequent fight, Eric proves he's more than capable of holding his own against the screws, but volunteer therapist Oliver (Rupert Friend) persuades the governor to let Eric join his anger management group, believing he can help.

The Good
Jack O'Connell (Tower Block, TV's Skins) delivers a star-making performance as Eric, dialling down his usual wise-cracking jack-the-lad persona in favour of something altogether darker, simmering with pent-up violence and a wily cunning borne of previous prison experience – a masterful early sequence leaves us in no doubt that Eric can handle himself: no sooner has his cell door closed than he's fashioning a shiv using a razor blade, a lighter and a toothbrush and making a makeshift screwdriver so as to hide his weapon in his light fittings.

Ben Mendelsohn is equally good as Nev, a complex character that the script lets you try and figure out for yourself, while Rupert Friend is impressive as Oliver and there's strong support from the likes of Peter Ferdinando as the wing's “daddy” and David Ajala as Tyrone, a group member who befriends Eric. The group therapy sessions are particularly well handled, especially the way Eric gradually comes to recognise their value.

The Great
The script is excellent and the concept of an estranged father and son bonding in jail offers an intriguing twist on the usual prison movie dynamics. In addition, Mackenzie maintains an atmosphere of nail-biting tension throughout (every confrontation is hide-behind-your-fingers stuff), broken up with powerful and shocking moments of violence (Eric's quick-thinking use of his teeth is a particular highlight).

On top of that, the film has a subtle but important message about the system's failure to reach out to angry young men and the action builds to a superb, edge-of-your-seat climax, even if it does stretch credulity a little. Great final shot too.

Worth seeing?
Starred Up is a powerfully emotional, nail-bitingly tense and breath-takingly violent British prison drama with an intriguing, cliché-bending script and a pair of terrific performances from Jack O'Connell and Ben Mendelsohn. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 18/04/2019 14:02

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