Tuesday, September 9, 2014

[Review] Starred Up


David Mackenzie directs this stirring UK prison flick, starring up-and-comer Jack O'Connell. The prison drama is a crowded thing, but it can prove to be engrossing stuff, and Starred Up is well worth the time.

When 19-year-old Eric (O'Connell) gets sent to prison, he starts creating makeshift shanks the minute he's assigned to a cell. He's the type of individual that gets himself into trouble about every two seconds. After some insane outbreaks, he starts seeing the prison's therapist, and things don't go very well. Just when there's a bit of progress made, a major setback occurs.

Starred Up brings out all the usual prison genre clich├ęs, but they're well-executed and about as gritty as it gets. The story is a series of fights, gang politics, betrayal, corruption, trips to the hole, and blood. If you've watched enough of National Geographic's "Lockdown", you can pretty much predict what's going to happen after each inciting incident. The main central twist in this film is that Eric's father, Neville (played by Ben Mendelsohn), is in the same prison AND cell block. Neville constantly attempts to keep Eric in line, but of course, he isn't an angel himself either. It's a toxic relationship that's on the verge of absolutely hitting the fan. Talk about father/son issues.

Jack O'Connell gives a volatile and dedicated performance, and we can probably expect to see an even better one is this year's forthcoming Unbroken. Ben Mendelsohn is perfectly cast,  right there with O'Connell in terms of impressiveness. Rupert Friend as the prison's therapist demonstrates a great turn as his character unexpectedly fleshes out.

Amidst all the surface violence and sometimes convenient plotting, the film is a psychological study of madness. It also raises questions about corruption within the institution, the small windows of reformation and rehabilitation, as well as the overbearing nature of evil itself. A symbolic shot of a revolving door can be taken any way.

8/10

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