Director: David Mackenzie
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Rupert Friend, Ben Mendelsohn
Running Time: 106 min
Plot: Eric Love (O’ Connell) is a violent young offender that gets bumped up to an adult prison wing because of his volatile conduct. By coincidence, his life-convicted father is one of the top dogs in the hoosegow.
Worryingly, Starred Up starts off like an unintelligent reworking of the Charles Bronson life story, with the troubled Eric Love (Jack O’ Connell) demanding a helicopter and a ‘pack of chocolate digestives’ while holding a prison screw at… screw point. Ten minutes in, though, and all initial concerns fade away. Unlike Charlie Bronson, the hulking menace that once kidnapped two Iraqi inmates (one under each arm) before demanding a chopper, a cuppa and a blow up doll, Eric’s acts of violence in Starred Up come from a deep-seated vulnerability – lashing out is the only way he knows to survive. In a highly regulated max-security wing, however, it proves to be an ineffective coping mechanism. Jack O’ Connell really has upped his star status in this gritty prison drama, with his pained, affecting performance being a far cry from his tween-baiting Skins days.
‘Starred Up’, the geezer/ firm-ish sounding title, is actually code for an under-21 being upgraded to an adult prison due to dangerous behaviour. For nineteen year-old Eric, it just so happens that his new nick is also home to his father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who’s been in residence since his son was a toddler. Rather than making things easier on the youngster, this actually adds to his pressures on the inside. Neville is a top thug in the drug-running crew that controls most of the cons (plus the more corruptible guards), and he insists that Eric fall in line like everyone else; ‘You will do what you’re fucking told!’ It may come out of protective instinct – Neville just wants his son to serve his sentence and get out – but the inflammatory Eric doesn’t respond well. Desperately fighting for self-control, Eric finds solace in a therapy group run by heroic volunteer Oliver (Rupert Friend, on fantastic form) but even this positive outlet can turn into a pit of aggression on account of its hot-blooded attendants.
Starred Up does not dilute itself with any music for its first three quarters, relying fully on the nerve-wracking purity of the acting. The credits state that the film bears no resemblance to actual events, but director David Mackenzie’s honest depiction of humans trying to deal with the daily confines of prison life feels all too real. There is not a single ‘Beer n’ Bingo’ prison cliché to be found – every scene is convincing, and when it all kicks off you will find yourself emotionally implicated. Starred Up is an excellent prison film and more than an answer to France’s much praised A Prophet. Go and watch it, unless you’re a ‘nonce-c***’; they don’t take very kindly to them down on D-Wing.