NZIFF Review - Starred Up
Prison dramas don't come searing than this.
Set in the UK, Jack O'Connell is Eric, a young offender who's transferred to a maximum security jail because of the danger he poses to others.
Within hours of being moved, he accidentally beats up a fellow inmate and puts himself on the radar as a troublemaker (even though his actions are instinctive rather than deliberate). Finding himself moved into a self-help group run by the apparently easy touch Oliver, he reluctantly begins to open up (to a degree) but it's his relationship with a fellow prisoner (played excellently by Ben Mendelsohn) causes more problems than he could ever imagine.
Starred Up is a brilliantly adrenaline filled drama that has you on the edge of your seat from the beginning sequence.
It's not your traditional arc for Eric - ie was a tough guy, but softens along the way - but is realistically handled in that he gradually lets down his guard only to come back out seething like a caged animal. O'Connell delivers a performance of searing ferocity that is both by turns terrifying and also occasionally vulnerable. It's the rare glimpses into the chinks underneath this armour that makes Starred Up so watchable and so unpredictable.
Likewise, Mendelsohn as one of the prison's top dogs is pretty damn good too; wanting the best for his kid but not wanting to see that harder edge softened at all. Gritty and exactly what you'd expect set in a male prison, this mix of volatile atmospherics and character insights makes for an undeniably edgy film that throws up many questions - can a man like Eric be rehabilitated, how soon will that powderkeg be lit and how does he survive day to day as well as outside?
But for all its dramatics and simply shot cinematics, Starred Up shows what an incredibly nuanced talent O'Connell is - it's his film and his alone in this father and son struggle that's undeniably powerful and utterly electrifying.