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STARRED UP (director: David Mackenzie; screenwriter: Jonathan Asser; cinematographer: Michael McDonough; editors: Jake Roberts/Nick Emerson; music: Tony Doogan/David Mackenzie; cast: Jack O’Connell (Eric Love), Ben Mendelsohn (Neville Love), Rupert Friend (Oliver Baumer), Sam Spruell (Deputy Governor Haynes), Anthony Welsh (Hassan), David Ajala (Tyrone), Peter Ferdinando (Dennis Spencer), Anthony Welsh (Hassan), Gershwyn Eustache Jr. (Des), Ashley Chin (Ryan), Raphael Sowole (Jago), Gilly Gilchrist (Principal Officer Scott), Ian Beattle (Officer Johnson), Tommy McDonnell (Officer Self), Frederick Schmidt (Officer Gentry); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Gillian Berrie; Tribeca Film; 2013-UK)
“Classic brutal prison flick.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brit director David Mackenzie(“Hallam Foe”/”Perfect Sense”/”Young Adam”) expertly helms this classic brutal prison flick, that’s kept confined within the prison walls. It’s intelligently written by first-time writer and poet Jonathan Asser, who should know prisons since he’s an innovative therapist in a prison. By artistic choice the film’s English is not decipherable to Americans. This choice gives it a feel of authenticity but takes away for the foreign viewer the pleasure of enjoying it to the fullest. Also it lacks a glossary of UK prison slang, which would be handy to the viewer. There are terms used that the unenlightened about Brit prison life wouldn’t know, such as acki-fellow Muslim, bacon-any type of sex offender, bag head-heroin addict, CSU-solitary confinement, double bubble-two for one, gwap-money, kanga-prison officer, kick off back door-anal sex, mug off-show disrespect, and off-kill.

The titlerefers to the status of its violent main character, Eric (Jack O’Connell), who is prematurely transferred from juvenile to adult jail.

Starred Up follows the volatile 19-year-old Eric, as the under-aged inmate enters the adult wing of the prison and meets his nasty estranged lifer inmate father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), and tries to navigate his way through enemies that are both prison guards and fellow inmates. The loser kid’s only hope of leaving the prison one day is in participating in an anger management group for prisoners run by posh outsider volunteer psychotherapist Oliver Baumer (Rupert Friend), who finds it compelling to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. Otherwise Eric gets tough love from his dad, leaving him unsure if dad wants to show him how to survive his stretch or is with the others in trying to brutalize him.

The edgy spirited psycho performance by Jack O’Connell, an emerging star, gives the film the street rawness that certainly captures the downer atmosphere of prison life. It offers us without flinching the unsentimental truth about the UK prison system and shows details about it never before seen on screen. It’s a tough watch, not for everyone, but for the viewer with the stomach to sit through such a heavy dose of disagreeable reality, the reward is seeing as close to first-hand as possible why the prison system doesn’t work for either the prison authorities or inmates, and why proper reform to rehabilitate such a broken system is necessary.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”