10 out of 10
Release Date: 21st March 2014
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendlesohn, Rupert Friend, Sam Spruell, Anthony Welsh, David Ajala, Ashley Chin, Gershwyn Eustache Jr, Sian Breckin, Frederick Schmidt, David Avery, Raphael Sowole and Peter Ferdinando
Writer: Jonathan Asser
Trailer: STARRED UP
At long last the UK has a prison drama to be proud of. Experimental Scots director David Mackenzie out does himself with one of the best films of 2014 (regardless of origin). Much has been made of Jack O’Connell’s (TULIP FEVER) ascension to Hollywood in Unbroken and it’s in this film and ’71 that he’s proven himself to be one of the most exciting actors to have emerged from the UK in a very long time.
Jack O’Connell plays Eric Love, a 19-year oldyoung offender who has been pushed into the prison system earlier because he’s been ‘starred up’. This means he’s a violent and borderline unmanageable case. On the same wing is his lifer father, Neville played by Australian actor Ben Mendlesohn (THE YEAR MY VOICE BROKE) who hasn’t spent much time with him since the boy was 5. There’s no sentimental reunions to be had, as respected old lag and loose cannon set about establishing boundaries. Nev is encouraged to nurture and educate the boy by top boy on the wing, Spencer (PETER FERDINANDO – HYENA) but Eric finds a respite of sorts through a counsellor, Ol (RUPERT FRIEND – HOMELAND) who offers an alternative.
There are no breakthrough moments or easy answers in Starred Up. There’s very little chance of rehabilitation for any of the main characters, an shift in the right direction is a victory but it’s a film of degrees. Success is realised in miniscule increments and that’s what’s great about Starred Up. It’s gritty, yet it’s not designer depression, there’s some very really big ideas at play here. It’s still a film though. There’s a score, well light scenes, blocked scenes, steadi-cam, so it’s not one of those cinema-real ordeals. But at this level there’s still very little distance between audience and action. The violence is close and real. Get Hard this isn’t.
Other Britpics like Ghosted, Offender and Screwed weren’t failures by any long chalk but they only succeeded in certain areas. Starred Up is in a higher league. It’s up there with le Prophet for me. Supporting turns from Rupert Friend and independent film stalwarts like Ashley Chin (VICTIM), Anthony Welsh (SECOND COMING) and David Ajala (PAYBACK SEASON) bolster Jack O’Connell‘s steely and fearless central performance. Ben Mendlesohn has been building a pile of strong supporting roles since he left Oz for Hollywood, yet this is one of his all time best. There’s no trace of his Australian accent and his Neville is great as the established jailbird who gets his ordered world turned upside down. There’s a great scene when the penny drops for Eric that Neville’s cellmate is also his lover. Eric’s only experience of homosexuality is via a child abuse incident when he was 10. So the look of discovery and then distaste is telling, it’s a turning point when all the remaining respect for Neville disappears.
All in all, it’s an incredible watch, obviously it’s not an easy watch. Anyone that’s been on lock down in the UK may well single this film out as the one that reflects life on the inside and it ain’t pretty. This further marks Perfect Sense out to be one of the most exciting directors at work in the UK at the moment. Long may he continue to surprise and devastate in equal measure. Please look out for Perfect Sense too, the world’s most unique apocalypse movie. Top marks for the scriptwriter Jonathan Asser too.
10 out of 10 – Bleak, scary and wonderful. See it.
WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?
- Jack O’Connell: Money Monster, Tulip Fever, Unbroken, ’71, 300 – part II, The Liability, Private Peaceful, Tower Block, Weekender, Harry Brown, Eden Lake, This Is England, Skins (TV)
- Ben Mendlesohn: Star Wars – Rogue One, Blackbird, Bloodline (TV), Slow West, Lost River, Exodus – Gods and Kings, Black Sea, The Place Beyond The Pines, The Dark Knight Returns, Killing Them Softly, Trespass (2011), The Killer Elite, Animal Kingdom, Needle, Beautiful Kate, Knowing, Australia, The New World, Vertical Limit, Sample People, Idiot Box, Cosi, Sirens, Map of the Human Heart, Quigley Down Under, The Big Steal, Nirvana Street Murder, Spotswood, The Year My Voice Broke, Neighbours (TV)
- Rupert Friend: Hitman – Agent 47, Homeland (TV), The Kid (2010), The Young Victoria, Cheri, The Boy In Striped Pyjamas, The Last Legion, Outlaw (2007), Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, The Libertine
- Sam Spruell: Sixteen, Good People, Legend (2015), Child 44, Taken 3, The Counsellor, Snow White and the Huntsman, Defiance, The Hurt Locker, London To Brighton
- Anthony Welsh: Dirtymoney, Second Coming, Comes a Bright Day, My Brother The Devil, Red Tails
- David Ajala: Kill Command, Jupiter Ascending, Fast and Furious 6, Offender, Payback Season, Adulthood
- Ashley Chin: The Intent, Snow In Paradise, Gone Too Far, Plastic, Victim, Anuvahood, Cherry Tree Lane
- Frederick Schmidt: Alleycats, Snow In Paradise
- Sian Breckin: Hollyoaks (TV), Tyrannosaur, Donkey Punch
- Peter Ferdinando: Knights of the Round Table – King Arthur, High-Rise, Hyena, A Field In England, Turnout, Snow White and The Huntsman, Tony