Starred Up (2014)

Jack O'Connell in Starred Up (2013)The phrase “starred up” is British slang, referring to the transfer of a juvenile offender to adult incarceration. In David Mackenzie’s Starred Up the offender in question is Eric (Jack O’Connell). We enter the prison with Eric, watching him as he is strip-searched, as he constructs a makeshift shiv, as he unleashes savage violence on a fellow prisoner: the kind of reflexive violence endemic to someone who’s grown up in the system.

Said violence brings the wrath of a gaggle of prison guards, but unearths a saviour of a sort in the form of Rupert Friend’s prison therapist. At this stage you expect a straightforward redemptive arc. But Starred Up understands that the influence of lifelong suspicion and abuse is not so easy to shake, especially given the influence of Eric’s long-incarcerated father, Neville (Ben Mendelson).

The film is, first and foremost, interested in the legacy of masculinity defined almost entirely by unrepentant violence, but its commitment to a pull-no-punches approach ensures that it succeeds where an idealistic approach would have stumbled. This is thanks to both Mackenzie’s spot-on naturalistic direction and especially O’Connell’s utterly committed, sharp-edged performance, in the role that serves as a bridge between Skins and Unbroken.

3 stars

3 thoughts on “Starred Up (2014)

    • I dunno, I liked it! My star ratings tend to be a measure of how much I enjoyed/appreciated/was intrigued by a film rather than an objective measure of its quality. I thought this was a well-made, well-written, well-acted film that ultimately didn’t connect with me emotionally, hence 3 stars (which isn’t a bad rating!).

      It was edging up to 3.5 but when I compare it to the films that I’ve given that rating to this year, it lacked the connection I found in those films, even if it might be “better” in a film-making than, say, The Skeleton Twins. I’d definitely recommend it, regardless.

    • On reflection, I think part of it has to do with the fact that I’m not really a violent person, and everyone (everyone!) in this film is in one way or another, which made it harder to relate. It’s no criticism of the film’s quality (as that’s clearly its intent) but it does make it harder for me to love it. I do get that my review reads more like a 4 star review, though!

      Have you seen it?

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