Starred Up (18)

Film

Drama

Time Out rating:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>3</span>/5

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Time Out says

Tue Mar 18

The industrious and prolific British writer-director David Mackenzie has been plugging away on the fringes of the film industry for well over a decade now, producing work both beloved (‘Young Adam’, ‘Hallam Foe’) and derided (‘Spread’, ‘You Instead’). With ‘Starred Up’, a prison drama written by Jonathan Asser, a one-time poet who used to run therapy sessions with prisoners, he may just manage his first bonafide hit.

Up-and-comer Jack O’Connell plays Eric, an authority-baiting teen psycho. His first week in grown-ups prison after being prematurely transferred (or ‘starred up’) from a young offenders’ institute is a busy one: he fashions a shank from a toothbrush, batters an inmate half to death, almost eviscerates one guard with a radio aerial, bites another in an extremely intimate area and – rather understandably – gets banged up in solitary.

But Eric has a bigger problem to contend with beyond his own destructive urges. His estranged dad, Neville (Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, with a wandering Cockernee accent) is on the same wing, and he’s an even nastier piece of work than junior.

For the most part this is furiously compelling stuff, convincingly mounted and superbly acted. O’Connell (a former mainstay of ‘Skins’ on TV and last seen in ‘300: Rise of an Empire’) is a screaming ball of energy, and there are solid supporting turns across the board, notably from Anthony Welsh and David Ajala as a pair of unexpectedly decent fellow cons. As with much of Mackenzie’s work there’s a queasy underlying tone of half-glimpsed eroticism, which adds another layer of intrigue.

So it’s disappointing when ‘Starred Up’ begins to lapse into soapy cliché. It starts gradually – a strident female governess here, a seedy Big Bad Boss Man there (and one who recalls Grouty from ‘Porridge’). But by the end we’re firmly in ‘Prisoner: Cell Block H’ territory and being asked to swallow a whole lot of blunt father-son melodrama and convenient, oh-look-they-forgot-to-lock-the-cell-door plotting. The result might well break Mackenzie out of the indie ghetto, but at times it can feel like a cop-out.

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Release details

Rated:

18

UK release:

Fri Mar 21, 2014

Duration:

106 mins

Cast and crew

Director:

David Mackenzie

Screenwriter:

Jonathan Asser

Cast:

Rupert Friend, Jack O'Connell, Ben Mendelsohn

Users say

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>0</span>/5

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:3
  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:0
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Caro Hackney
1 of 1 found helpful

I thought Starred Up took the genre and turned it inside out. Saw David Mackenzie talking about his methods and I think they may have given the film an extra layer of authenticity. He had 2 editors as well as the writer present at work during filming. They shot the film chronologically on location and had rough cuts for everyone to watch every day. I think that meant everyone understood what the film was as they were going along. The extraordinary intensity of the acting may have arisen from this. I completely "bought" the rhythms of tedium/ sudden flashes of violence. I'll definitely go again when it gets released next year. Warmly recommended.

Caro Hackney
1 of 1 found helpful

I thought Starred Up took the genre and turned it inside out. Saw David Mackenzie talking about his methods and I think they may have given the film an extra layer of authenticity. He had 2 editors as well as the writer present at work during filming. They shot the film chronologically on location and had rough cuts for everyone to watch every day. I think that meant everyone understood what the film was as they were going along. The extraordinary intensity of the acting may have arisen from this. I completely "bought" the rhythms of tedium/ sudden flashes of violence. I'll definitely go again when it gets released next year. Warmly recommended.

MikeT

No time is wasted in easing you into life inside prison. Jack O'Connor's portrayal of Eric is excellent, if disturbing, as Eric wastes no time in rubbing almost everyone up the wrong way within minutes of arriving inside, and makes clear he's a violent little s**t by quickly and confidently making himself a switchblade from the supplies he's just been given by the prison guards.
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Unfortunately, the story's not that great. The 2009 film "Un Prophète" was Oscar nominated (though didn't win), and had a much more interesting story of life-inside as the new arrival than Starred Up. That's not to say Starred Up wasn't fast paced in places, as it was, but in other places dialog was hurled so quickly it was difficult to know what was going on. Also, some of the dialog for Eric's dad was leaden, clumsy, and repetitive. The violence was overdone - it was clear right from the outside that Eric was trouble personified, and this was played out with too many brawls rather than being alluded to in other ways.
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The last 15 minutes of the film is probably the best. I'm a great believer in heavy editing, and about 15 minutes of the earlier parts of Starred Up could have ended up on the cutting room floor, with the story line from the last 15 minutes comfortably continuing and running up to a 2 hr total. Two stars.

critique _

Fair-to-middling prison drama. Unlike others, I wasn`t convinced by the cheeky and charming O`Connell as an ultra-violent offender and I thought Mendelsohn lacked the weaselly menace he exuded in Animal Kingdom. Far from taking the genre and turning it inside out, I rate it as pretty standard genre fare.

Richard Orrin
0 of 1 found helpful

Gay sex. Mobiles secreted up backsides. Father/son tortured relationship. African v Caribbean tensions on the wing. Kindly Prison Officer. Murderous Junior Governor. Tortured, middle-class volunteer therapist winning over the hard nuts. Psychopath Mr Big with ponytail. Razor blades welded to a toothbrush. When scriptwriter Jonathan Asser was asked following a LFF screening if it was realistic to portray prison officers faking the suicide of a troublesome inmate, he refused to answer, dismissing the question as a red herring. If you can accept Asser's assessment of plausibility as irrelevant, there is much to be admired in the film's acting, especially that of Jack O'Connell. However, for a more accurate, less hackneyed portrayal of the grinding ennui that is prison life, Michael Winterbottom's Everyday is infinitely superior.