Friday, 28 March 2014

Starred Up (2014)

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Eric Love, a troubled and explosively violent teenager, is transferred to adult prison. In there, he meets his match - Neville, a man who also happens to be his father.

The prison film genre is not a widely celebrated one. It may boast some titles that are notable for high praise, such as Midnight Express and The Shawshank Redemption, but it's mainly known for films lacking in quality. Starred Up is an attempt to bring credibility back to the genre, and by god, it works.

Jack O'Connell is predominantly known for his role as Cook in Skins, but don't let that put you off. He manages to be nothing short of a revelation here, giving a mesmerising performance of a young offender who's haunted by his past trauma and full of anger which he can't help but unleash on the prison guards and his fellow inmates. This is a performance worthy of many accolades, which makes it all the more a shame that he'll probably be forgotten about come awards season.


Despite his Aussie-Cockney accent, Ben Mendelsohn plays his role terrifically. His character tries to help his son through surviving in this new location, while also containing a built up rage within. The film truly crackles whenever Eric and Neville share the screen, providing an unpredictable Father-Son Dynamic, with the unresolved issues and burrowed anger felt in each scene. Rupert Friend is also worth mentioning, giving a fantastic performance as a prison counsellor who constantly tries to help Eric, but is rebuffed at every turn. He may be known primarily for Homeland, but this is his best performance.

David MacKenzie's CV boasts a variety of film genres, including a rock n' roll romantic comedy, a mental asylum drama and an Ashton Kutcher gigolo-comedy. Yet he directs the prison scenes with a good grasp on the tension, be it in a testosterone-fuelled group meeting, a brutal confrontation or an exchange of words between father and son. What makes things a shame is that the film has to fall into the traditional tropes that inhabit a typical prison film. Crooked guards, a shower scene, an underdeveloped prison warden for an antagonist, they're all here (minus a mention of dropping the soap). What's astonishing is how many of the tropes come together for the ending, which speeds by, rushing to tie it all up in a neat knot.

Despite falling into the traditional prison film tropes and rushing the ending, Starred Up is a worthy entry into the prison film genre and shows that Jack O'Connell is a star in the making.

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