Starred Up Review: Prison is the New Prison

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Something tells me prison isn’t as fun as Orange is the New Black makes it out to be, and that something is this intense, documentary style drama about a boy who will become a man behind bars.

The title, Starred Up, comes from a term meaning someone who has been transferred early from a juvenile prison to an adult one. That describes Eric Love (Jack O’Connell), a quick-to-temper prisoner that, at the ripe age of 19, is already seasoned in this dangerous environment. Upon arriving at adult prison, his father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), another prisoner, attempts to take him under his wing. But Eric starts attending anger-management meetings with prison councilor Oliver (Rupert Friend).

Much of the film tries to test Eric in hopes that he will finally just snap. The slow start to the story feels deliberate as we get to know the characters at an effective pace and see their dynamics establish naturally.

Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn are nothing short of astonishing, developing nuances that relate and separate the father and son relationship their characters share. O’Connell is especially noteworthy, seemingly taking bloody fight scenes as seriously as the dramatic ones.

Starred Up is also an exercise in detail, with on-location shooting and what props they use immersing us into the world of a UK prison. That, along with the documentary style cinematography and the lack of a true score, make this one of the most real-feeling films of the year.

While the ending may not land as effectively as it could have, this is still an emotionally taxing film in the best way. Eric and Neville are likable people, despite being criminals that are way to quick to punch anyone who looks at them weird. Their story goes places you won’t expect. What more can you ask for? Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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