Brief Thoughts: Starred Up (Movie Review)

I really enjoy putting my reviews together.  I honestly wish I could delve deeper into certain movies, but alas, I get incredibly busy and can sometimes only deal with movies to a briefer extent than I would prefer.  This is why I write these occasional "Brief Thoughts" posts on movies I have seen, as I want to at least offer some of my own perspective on them.  They may not be as polished, but I can at least get my opinions out there.  In this Brief Thought, I review the British prison drama Starred Up, starring Unbroken's Jack O'Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, and Rupert Friend.

Starred Up: 4 out of 5

Principal Officer Scott: Uncuff him.

While Unbroken may be a natural good move for a young actor like Jack O'Connell, if I had to choose between the prison dramas that came out this year and both featured him, Starred Up is easily the film I would go with.  Directed by David Mackenzie and written by Jonathan Asser, based on his own experiences as a voluntary therapist in a British prison, Starred Up is easily the best prison-based drama I have seen since Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson, which also had a star-making performance in the form of Tom Hardy.

The film features O'Connell as Eric Love, an angry young man who has been transferred from a young offender institution to an adult prison, which is what the film's title refers to.  Once inside, Eric makes quick impressions as a violent young man who is a ball of rage easily set off.  Making matters more curious is the presence of Ben Mendelsohn as Neville Love, Eric's estranged father, who is also serving time.  The two do not get along easily, but Neville wants to do everything he can to protect his son, while incarcerated with him.  Also wanting to help is Homeland's Rupert Friend as Oliver Baumer, a voluntary therapist trying to help a number of prisoners via a group that meets to discuss things to help the inmates ease their minds.

I tend to respond quite well to movies like this and I think it comes down to how stripped down these types of stories are, given how there is little for the characters involved, as they are all boxed within one setting and choices and actions that occur are very immediate.  Sure, this is a very violent film, with lots of creative swearing to go along with it, but that does not take away from the amount of emotion seen in these characters.  I loved seeing the way Eric and Neville do what they can to fit into this environment and the circumstances, which does not amount to peaceful reconciliations as much as nasty encounters and various intriguing turns along the way.

The acting is very strong here, which includes the various supporting prisoners and Rupert Friend, who I really enjoyed seeing as a counter-balance to the range of emotions displayed by the prisoners.  Friend's role is very helpful for a film like this, given how he knows how to bend for the sake of what he thinks is progress and watching that match up to how the others treat Eric, who Friend's character desperately wants to reach, in an effort to keep him out of harm's way.

Starred Up does a fine job of showing off the geography of the setting, but it is still a minimal film, which includes a lack of score.  It helps bring us closer into what this film presents, but all of it ends up working thanks to strong direction and very effective performances (I could write a separate post about how great I think Ben Mendelsohn is in this film.)  Currently available on VOD, Starred Up is a hard core prison drama, but a very good one.

[Note: I am aware that many have had trouble with the heavy accents and slang on heard in this film, which has lead to the use of subtitles.  For whatever reason, between this film and Attack the Block, I guess I just have an ear for this sort of dialogue, as I had no real troubles in this regard.]

Dennis Spencer:  Starred Up means you're leader.


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