UK Release: March 21st 2014
British release ‘STARRED UP’ is a British prison drama from talented director David MacKenzie (‘Perfect Sense’, ‘Hallam Foe’, ‘Asylum’, ‘Young Adam’) telling the story of Jack O’Connell’s young offender being moved into (or as the title of the film calls it ‘Starred Up’) a proper prison after causing trouble in the young offenders institute he was initially placed in. Once in there he meets his father (Ben Mendelsohn) and all hell then breaks loose.
From the opening shot you can tell this film evokes the energy of many British prison based dramas. Rising actor Jack O’Connell ‘’dances’’ through his scene like a young Malcolm McDowell in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and has a verbosity of Tom Hardy in ‘Bronson’ (which themes of violence is very much influenced by). Equally as wonderful is Ben Mendelsohn (great accent here) as his dangerous, on edge father, evoking Gary Oldman in ‘The Firm’. While having these influences in this film, ‘Starred Up’ also plays up to classic prison drama conventions, you have an attack in a shower eta, but what it does with them is far more impressive. Instead of bringing gratuitous violence for the sack of it we get natural and raw bouts of violence which shock and stay in your head long after the running time. The attack in the shower scene feels believable as you understand the characters motives but also see how the muscle and body react when they are being strangled in there, which does bring a element of class to proceedings. In a practitioner standpoint, the cinematography is wonderful. Michael McDonough does a great job with a limited budget, bringing a decay and fly on the wall isolation to the feel of the film, which have no doubt been drawn from his own personnal experiences in prison. There is also a current theme being discussed here about if prison is harder inside then on the outside, and also the idea if offenders should be able to learn qualifications in the inside or not.
There are some downfalls to this film; it might not win points for originality (again the tick box of prison rape is there, the whole introduction of Rupert Friends therapist helping the prisoners in a help group does get melodramatic and the ending does get very unrealistic. But still this is exciting British film making. It constantly feels like ‘’proper’’ British cinema, and with the success of ’12 Years a Slave’ at the Oscars, hopefully there is more encouragement to make films like this. A very recommendable experience indeed.