Starred Up

19-year-old Eric, arrogant and ultra-violent, is prematurely transferred to the same adult prison facility as his estranged father. As his explosive temper quickly finds him enemies in both prison authorities and fellow inmates — and his already volatile relationship with his father is pushed past breaking point — Eric is approached by a volunteer psychotherapist, who runs an anger management group for prisoners. Torn between gang politics, prison corruption, and a glimmer of something better, Eric finds himself in a fight for his own life, unsure if his own father is there to protect him or join in punishing him.


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  • ★★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd


    staggeringly great. like a brutal & unintelligibly hardcore Good Will Hunting set in the bowels of a scummy British prison. unmissable.

    look at David Mackenzie's filmography. *that* guy making *this* movie is kind of like if Jonathan Liebsman followed TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES with fucking ALIENS (Mackenzie's previous work was waaaaay better than Liebsman's, for anyone keeping score at home). this is just savage stuff... overreaches a teensy bit at the end, and might be a bit too clipped, but still utterly essential.

    full review to come next week for Complex.

  • ★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd

    I couldn't possibly count the amount of F-bombs in this movie, even if I tried... yet ironically it has some of the "least forced" dialogue I've seen all year. Gritty as can be, and flawlessly acted & directed. No complaints here and no excuse not to give this film at least a 4.5/5 (I was THAT close to giving it a perfect score).

    A major success of a movie in a been-there-done-that genre; possibly my second favorite prison themed film (after Hunger) since the turn of the century.

  • ★★★★½ review by SilentDawn on Letterboxd

    Riveting, brutal, bruising, and heavy stuff; Starred Up is one of the greatest prison dramas ever made and one of the most boldly potent experiences that I've seen in a very long time. The camerawork, the incredible acting by Jack O'Connell and Ben Mendelsohn, the vulgar and snappy script; It all builds and builds to a film that left me stunned and vulnerable. See it as soon as possible.

  • ★★★★½ review by DirkH on Letterboxd

    Starred up’s premise may sound sappy and dime a dozen, but the actual execution is anything but that.

    A young boy (19) gets ‘starred up’ from a prison for young offenders to a maximum security prison. His dad, who he doesn’t really know, happens to be incarcerated there as well and he soon falls under the care of a volunteering social worker who wants to help him manage his anger issues.

    Reading that you’d never expect the places this film goes. The moment the social worker was introduced I started to get fidgety and apprehensive. The notion of reform, hope against hope, is something usually handled in the tackiest of fashions. Even though it is very clear from the start that this film is stripped from as much veneer as possible, it still did not sit well with me.

    But as the plot started to progress, those misgivings were swept under the rug with the greatest of ease. This is a film which has a narrative that just sucks you in and doesn’t let go while delivering one blow after the next. Its drama is truly gripping, its depiction of life in prison, strengthened by very authentic dialogue, is palpable and feels authentic and, most importantly, it offers no solutions and pulls no punches.

    The acting is superb, fuelled by an energy and an anger that fits the mood extremely well. The characters, while stereotypical, are fleshed out well enough for us to feel connected to them. This task falls mainly on the shoulders of Jack O’Connell who proves to be more than up for the task. The pacing is near perfect, never really slumming and always keeping you on your toes. It’s simply an extremely well made film.

    A prison film that offers up about as much hope as the inmates have, i.e. barely any, has you look for the small things to find some closure. And they are there, mainly within the ever so slow and small changes that occur within O’Connell’s character. Even though there is some comfort there, Starred Up makes extra sure you get thrown back to reality with a superb, metaphorical final shot.

    This film left me gutted, yet satisfied. I like having the wind knocked out of me by a film that doesn’t intend to hold back. Starred Up is, to me, one of the best prison films ever made.

  • ★★★½ review by CinemaClown on Letterboxd

    Brutal, unflinching & downright intense, Starred Up tells the story of a young convict who's transferred to adult prison due to his extremely violent behaviour where he meets his father after a long time. The plot follows the harshness of imprisoned life and covers his journey as his father attempts to get him to settle down so that he can go through therapy.

    Directed by David Mackenzie, Starred Up takes a no-holds-barred approach to brings its violent tale to life and retains its viciousness throughout its runtime. The script keeps the focus on its lead character who is unable to keep his rage in control and through him, the plot captures not only the menacing life behind bars but the devastating effects of violent upbringing as well.

    Production design team manages to recreate the grim atmosphere of prison, Camerawork is carried out in a controlled manner although it misses out on encapsulating the picture with a claustrophobic ambiance, Editing is brilliant for it never cuts up too quick and effectively sustains the build-up tension, Music is virtually absent, but the strongest aspect of Starred Up is its performances.

    The cast comprises of Jack O'Connell, Ben Mendelsohn & Rupert Friend, with all of them chipping in with strong work. O'Connell is an absolute revelation for the way he expresses his stuffed-up emotions & sudden burst of anger is utterly convincing, Plus, he effortlessly makes us believe that his character is a byproduct of a childhood filled with trauma & abuse, and that he's not a bad person per se.

    On an overall scale, Starred Up is a highly engaging, relentlessly aggressive & unforgiving British prison drama that benefits from Mackenzie's terrific direction & O'Connell's winning performance, offers an interesting take on father-son dynamics set in a brutal environment, and has much to say about people guarding the prison as it ends up saying about the prisoners behind bars. A raw, evocative & hard-hitting flick, Starred Up comes recommended.

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