Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Cinema Review - Starred Up

Back in 2008, Steve McQueen offered up an incredible depiction of the true life story of Bobby Sands and his hunger strike in a Northern Irish prison, which was undoubtedly one of the most convincing and depressing British prison films served up in a very long time. Whilst David Mackenzie’s latest feature, Starred Up, is purely fictional, it emphasises the stark brutality of prison in a similar fashion to Hunger, with its long lingering shots and moments of raw, unflinching violence that will inevitably leave viewers stunned at the incredible talent on display from both cast and crew. Whereas Starred Up panders more to a regular audience than the art-house crowd, this is in no way a detriment to the director’s vision, as the gripping storyline avoids most of the usual clich├ęs that dominate the genre to showcase a unique and very brutal take on life inside a British prison for one young inmate.

As a young offender transferred to an adult prison, Eric Love is instantly plunged into a situation far out of his depth, with his violent outbursts drawing unwanted attention from both guards and fellow inmates. Jack O’Connell gives all and bares all in his brave portrayal of Love, including a naked grapple in the shower reminiscent of Viggo Mortensen’s sauna struggle in Eastern Promises, that showcases a dedication to his craft often unseen in actors of such a young age. O’Connell’s career has often seen him typecast as an aggressive and troubled youth, with his role in the TV series Skins, and films such as Eden Lake and Tower Block, showcasing his promise, but it his blistering performance in Starred Up that is likely to leave its mark on the film industry, in what is likely to be viewed as a breakout role for the young actor.

Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn is similarly stunning in his role as a permanent inmate with a social standing only awarded to the most dangerous of criminals, and he shows an unhealthy interest in the alliances that Love begins to form. As the two gravitate towards each other it is only a matter of time before the inevitable power struggle begins, but the ensuing bloodshed takes some unexpected turns, with Love’s dangerously unpredictable persona being the cause of much exasperation for the voluntary care-worker Oliver (Rupert Friend), who takes it upon himself to educate the volatile inmate. The tension often reaches unbearable levels, with a standout scene in the confined spaces of the prison gym showcasing Love’s desperate struggle to reign in his anger, only for it to be released in other places much to the detriment of his situation.

Finding fault with Mackenzie’s film is difficult, and although the behaviour of some prison guards is questionable, this doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Starred up is not going to appeal to everyone as the graphic brutality, nudity, and barrage of vulgar language is likely to offend certain viewers, but those accustomed to films which tread these tropes will definitely appreciate the twisted humour and visually arresting scenes of violence. This is one of the darkest British prison films I have seen in recent years and those who hold classics of the genre, such as Scum, in high regard really need to see this on the big screen, knowing as little as possible for the maximum impact.

8/10


If you like this you will enjoy these:

Scum
The Escapist
Hunger
Bad Boys (1983)