I will keep this review short and sweet, otherwise I could find myself writing a dissertation length piece on what is truly an incredible piece of British realist cinema. There is so much to love about ‘Starred Up’, and I shall do my best to concisely present my response to what has become one of my favourite films of all time. Yes, it is that good.
‘Starred Up’ follows Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) upon his transfer from juvenile prison to an adult offender’s institution. Eric is a “high risk”, volatile and hotheaded individual, who quickly learns that prison is not a game, finding himself embroiled in terrifying, life-threatening situations. His struggle is compounded by the presence of his father, Neville Love (Ben Mendelsohn), an equally explosive and unpredictable character. This father-son duo forms the basis of the film’s narrative, with a dangerous tension existing between the two characters who enjoy the most unusual of love-hate relationships. There is a third influence in this decidedly confused and complicated relationship, in the form of social worker Oliver Baumer (Rupert Friend), who heads a counselling group for inmates who wish to discuss their problems in a safe environment. Eric becomes a part of this group, who in turn become his family of sorts, with Baumer fulfilling the role of his father – a notion which doesn’t go down too well with his actual father. Neville’s childish nature, lack of self-control and inability to accept that his son might just be better off without him, is a recipe for disaster.
There are three performances of note, with all of the aforementioned roles brilliantly performed by their respective actors. Jack O’Connell continues his stunning rise to super-stardom with an impeccable display, and arguably his best to date. His accomplished portrayal of the troubled, socially inept and violent protagonist is hard to criticize. At times it is easy to lose yourself in the film, and forget that what you are watching is fiction and not a documentary; the journey O’Connell depicts is full of very genuine fear, anger, hostility and desperation. The same can be said for Ben Mendelsohn and his portrayal of Neville Love. In a very different role to anything I have seen him take on before, Mendelsohn shines just as much as his on-screen son and the two of them form a deadly double act, albeit a dysfunctional collaboration. With Neville, we again feel every moment of his frustration and hopelessness, as he sees his son pulled away from him by Baumer – with Rupert Friend providing the third performance worthy of note. A “posh boy” with a troubled past, he is just as much of a sorry case as Neville or Eric, and Rupert Friend fulfils this role with absolute aplomb. All three of these lead actors are supported by good performances everywhere you look, and as an ensemble it is arguably one of the best group of performances I have seen, a factor that contributes to the realist nature of this film and makes it so impacting.
For this film to be successful, it was important that the film felt real, and as I have mentioned previously it does this remarkably well. The severe sense of claustrophobia creates an unsettling atmosphere and we are often thrust into the centre of the action alongside Eric. I cannot praise highly enough how powerful and intense this film is. It’s certainly not pleasant to watch, but it does make you want to relive the drama all over again as soon as the credits begin to roll. This is a film which perfectly balances violence and brutality with a heartfelt narrative and character interaction. ‘Starred Up’ is another fantastic film for Jack O’Connell to add to his portfolio, and if he carries on producing performances of this manner, it wont be long before we have a heavyweight, Hollywood name to call our own. Huge congratulations to all involved.
DIRECTOR: DAVID MACKENZIE
STARRING: JACK O’CONNELL, BEN MENDELSOHN, RUPERT FRIEND