fri 21/06/2024

DVD: Starred Up | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Starred Up

DVD: Starred Up

Explosive, claustrophobic prison drama punches above its weight

Like father, like son: Jack O'Connell and Ben Mendelsohn in 'Starred Up'Aidan Monaghan

Director David Mackenzie tells us in this disc’s extras that Starred Up is his first genre film, and Fox’s low-rent sleeve art suggests that this could be another dreary, thuggish Britflick. The prison drama clichés come thick and fast, from the hard-nosed governor to the attack in the shower block. There’s a well-meaning outsider helping prisoners deal with anger issues, copious, bloody violence and a sweaty gym scene.

So it's good to report that Starred Up is a remarkable film, superbly acted and cannily scripted by Jonathan Asser, basing the screenplay on his own stint teaching prisoners. Jack O’Connell’s 19-year-old Eric is the central character, "starred up", or transferred from a young offender institution to an adult prison. Where, unexpectedly, and not a little improbably, his father is serving time in the same wing.

The optional subtitles may come in handy

Various plot strands are juggled, chiefly Eric’s developing relationship with the violent father he barely knows and his attempts to control his violent temper. Dad Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) is a poor mentor, and it’s not surprising that Eric finds more sympathetic support elsewhere in the prison. Eric’s dramatic fall in status as the youngest inmate is powerfully conveyed, particularly in a brief scene where Neville embarrasses him during a group session run by therapist Rupert Friend, whose own psyche is damaged after a childhood spent in boarding school.

We never catch sight of the world outside, and much of Starred Up’s power rests in its claustrophobic setting, the film mostly shot in a disused prison in Belfast. Skilful sound design and a muted colour palette make watching it a queasily intense experience. Eric’s volatility and latent violence are magnificently, intelligently conveyed by O’Connell, contrasting nicely with his father’s crumpled seediness. Among the supporting cast, fellow inmates Anthony Welsh and David Ajala stand out. Asser’s profanity-strewn script isn’t without humour, and the hint of redemption in the coda is well-deserved. The extras include revealing interviews with MacKenzie and O’Connell. Image quality is crisp and clear, and the optional subtitles may come in handy.

The profanity-strewn script isn’t without humour


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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