Starred Up (2013)
Directed David Mackenzie
Written by Jonathan Asser
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Sam Spruell, Rupert Friend
Eric Love (O’Connell) is a violent young inmate who’s just been transferred to an adult prison. When he tries to establish himself among the other inmates he runs into an unexpected challenge from a fellow inmate who also happens to be his father (Mendelsohn).
This film is based on Jonathan Asser’s own experiences working as a voluntary therapist at HM Prison Wandsworth. He took his time there and turned it into the screenplay for this movie. David Mackenzie (Young Adam) directed the film. The cast features Jack O’Connell (Unbroken), Ben Mendelsohn (Killing Them Softly), Sam Spruell (The Hurt Locker), and Rupert Friend (The Young Victoria).
This is a film that seems to seek out the gritty and the uncomfortable moments of life inside a prison. There’s nothing redeeming about this. (No friendly Morgan Freeman’s to get you things.) Instead, this film is written with questions of self-control and the value of life. This all makes sense since Asser wrote this based upon his own time spent with inmates in one of the most violent prisons in the U.K.. The characters are all interesting, and the uncomfortable energy of the film comes out nicely. The dialogue in this movie, like the action, doesn’t seem afraid to get right to the point. This makes for some graphic moments and strong language that never seem to go further than necessary, which is still pretty far in this one. The story won’t give you a nicely tied up ending, but it does do some good things throughout.
The acting in this movie exceeds the quality of the writing. Jack O’Connell did an incredible job finding the anger necessary to make this role work. No matter what is happening, he manages to let the anger simmer just underneath the surface of his performance. He also handles the physical needs of the role with great success. It’s a well-rounded performance that works from beginning to end. Ben Mendelsohn also does great work as the aging prisoner. He finds the same anger as O’Connell, but manages to bring out a sense of parental concern as well. Between O’Connell and Mendelsohn a real chemistry emerges as one of the high points of this movie. Performances by Sam Spruell and Rupert Friend help to round out this film and give it the depth it needs. While the acting can’t fix all of the story issues, it goes a long way towards making it better.
The visuals in this movie have the mark of a low-budget independent film, which is exactly what this movie calls for. The camera work brings out the gritty nature of the story. It also provides an in-your-face look at the violence within the prison. The cinematography and set design work does a great job accentuating the isolation and claustrophobic nature of the prison as well.
This movie flew under the radar for most movie goers, but it has a lot to offer. If you’re a fan of darker dramas or gritty stories, this is one for you. I would also suggest this to fans of the stars, especially Mendelsohn and O’Connell. I give this one 3.7 out of 5 stars.
Really rough and, at times, disturbing. However, there is a sense of humanity and connection between some of these characters and it’s what made it well worth the watch. Good review.
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I agree, the father-son dynamic saves this from being unbearably sad.
I’d agree that O’Connell is definitely the best part of the movie.
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Thanks for checking out the review. This is a movie I hope to revisit in a year or two since I think it offers a lot.