Within the British penitentiary system, when a particularly dangerous young offender is transferred to an adult prison, this is known as being "starred up". We tell you this because the film isn't here to offer much in the way of explanation or back-story, with only tiny hints dropped here and there. Eric (Jack O'Connell) has been starred-up, and arrives with a portable radio, a toothbrush, a plastic razor, and some baby oil, all of which are promptly turned into makeshift weapons. Why exactly Eric is in prison remains murky, but it would appear he's been starred up with intent, so he could share a roof with his imprisoned dad Neville (Ben Mendelsohn). Also in the mix is volunteer counsellor Oliver (Rupert Friend), who sees the potential to save Eric from his own volatile behaviour.
As said before, Starred Up isn't here to spoon-feed the audience information, but from time to time, a little bit more in the way of clarification would've been nice. Between the undefined prison lingo and the sometimes indecipherable accents, there's a lot that gets lost in translation. Thankfully though, between the powerhouse performances and the terrific direction, most faults are forgiven.
First and foremost, O'Connell is a revelation here. Pure, unrestrained fury at everything and everyone in the world, there is a fire and anger there that recalls De Niro in his youth, and while his character is mostly a horrific and all-too-unlikeable beast, there is something entirely magnetic about the man playing him. Friend is fantastic as a kind-eyed, passive shield, willingly putting himself into the centre of one of the most intensely violent situations on the planet. Then there's Mendelsohn, who manages to simultaneously entirely lose his natural Aussie accent and presents a believable and immediate sense of menace.
As prison dramas go, it goes about ticking off pretty much every box, and with the arrival of the unbelievably crooked warden, Starred Up takes on one cliché too many. But if you're looking for some staggeringly good performances in a solid, well-told story, you could do far worse than be sentenced to a few hours with this movie.
Review by Rory Cashin | 12:23 | Monday 10th February 2014 | Movie Review
Ben Mendelsohn is a beast of an actor. He was amazing in Animal Kingdom and stole the show in Killing Them Softly (no easy task). He was also the best thing about The Place Beyond the Pines. Really looking forward to seeing him in this.Posted 03:47 | Fri 14th Mar 2014
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