Genre: Prison Drama
Directed: David McKenzie
Starring: Jack O'Connell, Ben Mendelssohn, Rupert Fiend and Sam Spruell
Running: 106 Minutes
Jack O'Connell must have done something extraordinary in the audition to play along side the eccentric Australian Ben Mendelssohn. Playing second fiddle to the former skins star, both actors help bring this modernistic prison drama to life, owing much dept to predecessors such as Scum, A Prophet and Bronson.
In his first "major" leading role, the appearance of Jack O'Connell has been a long time coming. Renowned for playing Cook from teen drama Skins, Jack has made appearances in This is England and 300 Rise of an Empire of late. Director David McKenzie has managed to give Jack a role that sees him come out of his skin in what is surely the performance of his early movie career.
The opening scene is an invitation into the prison. Smartly shot, we follow Eric (O'Connell) as he is greeted with unopened arms into the hefty security of an adult prison. Unsettled and troubled in the adolescent prison he came from, Governor Hayes (Sam Spruell) is adamant to keep Eric maintained. Eric is aware of his surroundings, revealing his survival instincts in the first five minutes of its moody opening; melting a blade onto a toothbrush, Eric's fighting mentality is what lead him here in the first place and what will surely defy his future through-out the majority of this bit-part story. Cliched as far as prison movies go, but the twist is Ben Mendelssohn as Eric's intimating father and prison dictator. The relationship between father and son is heated as both are content in maintaining their own vigorous morals while a backdrop of child abuse gives us a darker insight into the current state of Eric and his father. Neville is aware of Eric's troubled youth and decides to guide him following a word of advice from prison kingpin Spencer (Peter Ferinando) who is beginning to lose patience with the young brawler, leading to a difficult decision that puts father and son at the forefront.
David McKenzie's film plays with various sequences of brutality and verbal crudeness, so much so that you start to wonder just where the film intends to go. The first half of the movie is busy introducing a lot of characters involved in Eric's bid to survive, but also balances a sense of humanity and dignity in Oliver (Robert Fiend); a prison Councillor who's cautious approach is of like nothing Jack has experienced. Oliver opens new doors for potential rehabilitation in terms of Eric's anger issues but Eric is tortured by the corruptness in the prison, as well as his own psychopathic mindset.
Starred Up does a terrific job in locking you up from the beginning. Every punch, every scream every conversation is constructed to involve you. The cinematography is sharp and claustrophobic which allow you too feel trapped with these caged animals. It's drama is real and at times heartfelt considering the circumstance. There are no heroes here and deep down director David McKenzie knows they are placed in a situation where pity and remorse is not an option. It is the cliched tale of survival of the fittest. Jack O'Connell's character is clearly inherited from Ray Winston's Scum and done so to perfection. O'Connell's anger is felt so much that he almost leaps off the screen. He plays the role of a demented character wonderfully. The flawless performance from Jack O'Connell helps to distract us from the fact this movie lacked a real sense of direction form the beginning, giving us a violent ending with little or no clarification or aftermath regarding our underdeveloped characters.
As a movie there is nothing here you haven't seen already. A prison movie is a safe bet and Starred Up is just another one of those. Its riveting considering the leading star while Ben Mendelssohn has proved he can do no wrong. It's graphic, vulgar and painful in its brutality; and as a man, that is maybe all one needs, but if you are looking for a story with depth and character development, Starred Up provides the opposite.