The prison movie genre gets a fresh shot of youthful grit in this hard-hitting but big-hearted British drama about a teenaged inmate transferred to the adult prison where his own father is incarcerated.
Starred up: when a young offender is transferred from a juvenile to an adult prison facility. Take Eric, a violent teenager who finds himself moved into a prison where more than just tougher cons await him, setting the scene for this gritty British prison drama from David Mackenzie.
Eric (newcomer Jack O'Connell) arrives at his new prison cell with his explosive temper intact. His first priority is to handcraft a weapon for protection against older inmates. But after a violent incident, Eric barely escapes a brutal punishment from the guards. He is saved only by Oliver, the resident prison counselor — played with real nuance here by Rupert Friend — who diffuses the situation. A fragile bond is formed and Eric reluctantly agrees to join Oliver's therapy sessions. Concerned that Eric may need more assistance to navigate the prison's complex webs of alliances and aggressive racial prejudices, the prison boss calls upon Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), a fellow inmate, to keep him in line. Neville is Eric's father.
Written with impeccable detail by
first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser, a
psychotherapist inspired by his own experience
working in correctional facilities,
Starred Up boasts an authenticity rarely
seen in the prison genre. Combined with
sharp, precise editing — notably in the film's
brutal fight scenes — and the intercutting
of the forces that work to bring Eric down,
Mackenzie's direction brings a fresh,
youthful perspective. Offering little sentimentality,
this intense, remorseless drama
sometimes makes for difficult watching,
but it is an experience not soon forgotten.