Starred Up
dir David Mackenzie
scr Jonathan Asser
prd Gillian Berrie
with Jack O'Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend, Sam Spruell, David Avery, Anthony Welsh, David Ajala, Peter Ferdinando, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Ashley Chin, Raphael Sowole, Tommy McDonnell
release UK 21.Mar.14
13/UK Film4 1h46
Starred Up
Meet the parent: O'Connell and Mendelsohn

friend welsh mackenzie
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Starred Up Even though this film deploys just about every cliche in the prison-thriller genre, it continually twists its story in more personal directions, which allows the fine cast to create vividly intense characters. So although the plot has some nagging holes in it, we are gripped to the action unfolding on-screen.

Eric (O'Connell) is such a violent 19-year-old inmate that he has been "starred up" from his young-offenders prison to the big house, where he's placed in the same wing with Neville (Mendelsohn), the father he's never known. While the governor (Spruell) wants to lock Eric's cell and throw away the key, therapist Oliver (Friend) thinks Eric can channel his rage in more positive directions. So he strikes a deal, and Eric begins to attend group discussions. But this makes Neville nervous, since it puts Eric right in the middle of a rival gang.

The core of this story is Eric's struggle against years of abandonment and abuse, which have taught him that the only response to pretty much anyone is violence. Watching him slowly discover that there might be another way to interact with people is fascinating, especially as it plays out in his relationship with Neville, Oliver and the group's resident hotheads. But the script isn't content with just telling that story: there has to be a villain and an underlying plot of even more violence and horror.

This effort to ramp things up prevents Mackenzie from actually achieving anything terribly new, because it explains Eric's outbursts in the most simplistic terms: we understand why he's so furious, because people really are out to get him. A more subtle approach would have highlighted his internal journey much more strongly, because O'Connell delivers a powerfully involving performance that captures Eric's inner emotional energy with remarkable balance.

Mendelsohn and Friend are also excellent as men who are more similar than they would ever admit. And the entire cast achieves a bracing realism that matches Mackenzie's earthy, edgy direction. We feel like we're trapped in the prison with these men, never seeing the sky outside as scenes are punctuated with slamming doors and verbal and physical attacks. So the nightmarish violence of the final act feels both unnecessary and distracting.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 8.Oct.13 lff

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