Jack O’Connell plays a violent young offender transferred to the same high security facility as his long incarcerated father (Ben Mendelsohn). Jonathan Asser’s script imbues brutal prison drama with raw inside knowledge.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2014
The brilliant young British actor Jack O’Connell burns up the screen as Eric, a young offender ‘starred up’ to a high security prison because of the danger he poses to fellow inmates. Not such a smart move, perhaps: amongst his new housemates is his long estranged and violently insecure father (Ben Mendelsohn). Incorporating his own experience counselling anger management in Wandsworth prison, debut screenwriter Jonathan Asser presents a prison drama that taps into the heads of its violent protagonists with rare acuity. “Starred Up, which is at least the hardest hitting British prison movie since Alan Clark’s 1979 film Scum, and probably hits a little harder, poses two questions. Firstly, whether or not Eric, a sneeringly smart but snarlingly feral young man in a permanent state of readiness for violence, is damaged beyond repair. And secondly, if he is redeemable, whether the prison system is fit for the purpose of rehabilitating him, or only, as the warden says, of warehousing him… It is an incendiary, visceral, riveting drama with a fascinating Oedipal twist; a brutal-realist depiction of male behaviour and prison culture, with the bitter tang of authenticity, during which the viewer, like Eric, is kept in a constant state of adrenalised high alert. And Jack O’Connell, who had already made several notable screen appearances since he was in This Is England in 2006, and who is in the centre of almost every frame of this film, announces himself as not just a fearless and fearsome screen actor but a star.” — Laurence Phelan, The Independent