‘Starred Up’ Movie Review – Father, Son, and Prison
Going into David Mackenzie’s (You Instead) Starred Up, I knew it dealt with a father-son relationship of some sort. I try my hardest to go into movies without any knowledge but that can prove difficult at times (although indie films are a bit easier). I also figured there were a lot of movies out there that dealt with this premise; however, I realized afterward there were less father-son films (or great ones) that I thought. Sure, I can think of a couple (There Will Be Blood probably tops my list) but you’d think more would come to mind. Luckily, I had just seen Starred Up which I’d definitely consider a contender at this point.
Starred Up takes place from beginning to end in a British prison. Besides the main character, Eric (Jack O’Connell), the story follows Oliver (Rupert Friend), a hard-nosed therapist, as he tries to calm some of the biggest loose cannons. As you can probably imagine, Eric is the loosest of all the cannons.
Making things more difficult is the presence of Eric’s father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who not only wasn’t there for Eric as he grew up but was inadvertently (or perhaps not-so-inadvertently) responsible for how Eric turned out.
In movies like this, you’d expect things to get preachy real quick. I can imagine it’d be pretty easy to map out a few cheesy moments, including some cute flashbacks and some ham-fisted dialogue about neglect, abuse, and so on.
Starred Up luckily didn’t choose this route.
Instead it used an authentic script that includes some pretty brash dialogue and some difficult-to-watch scenes. It’s all worth it, though, because with an authentic script comes authentic characters.
At the center of the authenticity is Eric – who is played flawlessly by O’Connell – and it creates a weird complication for viewers. You don’t get a lot of backstory into why Eric was in prison to begin with but it’s not long before you start to root for the guy…despite him lubing himself up and almost killing a guard.
Eric’s character is flanked well by his father. Mendelsohn was a perfect choice to play Neville and he shows again why he’s an underrated actor. Actor or not, it was the character that ultimately makes the whole thing work because he almost has to be more complicated to make the entire conflict believable.
The only bummer – and I’m hoping I don’t spoil things too much – is that the therapist, Oliver, isn’t included more. While I was admittedly happy with the father-son aspect, I think they had a little untapped potential in the therapist-client relationship.
In the end, Starred Up is not only a scary representation of prison (and all that it entails) but an interesting exploration into the father-son dynamic. While some are fortunate enough to have a good family life, there are plenty of others that unfortunately can’t say the same. Starred Up may be a bit rough around the edges but the content and setting calls for it, making it a surprisingly engaging experience.
Starred Up opened in limited release in New York this weekend. It’ll expand next weekend and hopefully beyond. Check it out if you can.
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