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47 out of 60 people found the following review useful:

Brutal and Brilliant

Author: I'm Batman from United Kingdom
21 March 2014

For a film that seemed to come out of nowhere, with a limited advertisement campaign and small budget, Starred Up has proved to be one of the more ballsy pictures released in some time - and with a UK release date sandwiched between two major blockbuster sequels, it had to do something to stand out from the crowd.

The main attribute of the film is its acting, most notably central character Jack O'Connell; a career-best performance from our lead protagonist serves as the driving force of the film, immersing the audience so much in the drama of it all that we can't believe we're feeling sorry for the prick we thought we knew in the opening stages.

However we all know that good acting doesn't necessarily constitute a good film; but placing such talent in the hands of David Mackenzie and providing a gripping (albeit unoriginal) story line is a damn good combination.

Despite the many positives, where this film fails is in the variety of on-screen shenanigans. Although it does slowly progress, the day-to-day life on the inside seems repetitive and predictable, particularly when the overall message is all too familiar and practically clichéd.

All in all however, Starred Up is one of the best prison dramas in a long time, and probably the best British film this year. Not for the faint-hearted, this superbly acted drama will scare you into following the law to the strictest command.

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55 out of 77 people found the following review useful:

Well made but think twice about this one...

Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
29 July 2014

As I said above, think twice before going to see "Starred Up". I don't say this because it's a bad film--it is very well made in fact. However, it's one of the most violent and grim prison films you can find and it's likely to make many folks depressed watching it. Because it strives for realism, it is incredibly vicious, there's some full-frontal nudity and the language is truly prison-like! So, don't let your kids watch it* and think twice before you watch it as well. If you think you're up to it, the movie is worth seeing.

When the film begins, Eric (Jack O'Connell) is being processed in to prison. Exactly what he did to get there isn't ever clear--all you know is that he did some pretty bad things. However, after calmly walking through this, it's soon obvious that Eric is NOT your typical prisoner. It's not because he's so young--prison is full of young punks. However, he's so violent that even most of the prisoners are soon afraid of him. He is a boiling cauldron of rage and hate--and almost everything seems to set him off. Now you'd assume that such a nasty character would soon get himself killed, but Eric is so mean that he seems destined to possibly survive incarceration. However, a few of the old-timers are NOT pleased and it's all a matter of time until he's dead. But there is an interesting trump card--one of the old timers who practically runs the place turns out to be Eric's father. What's next? See the film.

My biggest problem with watching this film isn't the violence or language. A long time ago, in my therapist days, I worked with the prison population so I wasn't really shocked by all this nastiness. No, my biggest problem were the accents. I am a bit hard of hearing (my oldest daughter attributes this to be being 'an old fart'!) and I sure would have loved some captions. Perhaps when it's released to DVD this will be an option.

Aside from this, the film is well made and represents prisoners pretty well. It's sure a grim lot and I could understand folks not wanting to watch nearly two hours of such hate and anger--but this is how many folks behave inside prisons. So, if you're looking for realism, you sure have it with this film. And, although Eric is not a huge guy, Jack O'Connell does a good job playing this menacing, violent and incredibly dangerous young man. So, my verdict is that this is a very well made film....but one that probably won't have a lot of folks wanting to line up and see it. It is NOT a nice little story like "The Shawshank Redemption" but is ugly, raw and powerful.

*I normally would not recommend a film like this to kids. However, perhaps young hoodlums would do well to see what prison is like unless they decide to make some life changes.

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39 out of 53 people found the following review useful:

A generally fine effort that brings the brutal world of Brit prisons into the 21st century

Author: davideo-2 from United Kingdom
26 March 2014

STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

Eric Love (Jack O'Connoll) is a couple of years younger than necessary to be transferred from a young offender's institution to an adult prison, but due to his explosively violent nature, a rare exception has been made. He seems under control, until he is disturbed while sleeping by another inmate and ferociously over-reacts. After trying and failing to talk his way out of the situation, his inflamed, anti-authoritarian streak bursts to life and he proves tricky for Governor Hayes (Sam Spruell) and his staff to deal with. From here, he encounters two people who may be the key to turning him round: dedicated social worker Oliver (Rupert Friend) and Neville (Ben Mendolsohn) the equally violent head of the wing...who also happens to be his dad.

While the harsh reality of prison life is rarely glossed over in any sort of filmed medium, save for maybe Ronnie Barker's hit sitcom Porridge, since the late '70's nothing quite like Alan Clarke's Scum has come close to matching the gritty brutality and hopelessness of prison life, leaving it a genre just begging to be dragged in to the 21st century with a fresh injection of raw adrenaline. The opening half of David Mackenzie's film seems to rely on atmosphere rather than exposition, with a dialogue light opening half as the lead protagonist is lead to his cell, and made to go through the various rituals and indignities on his way there until the door is locked shut. When O'Connoll first speaks (in a cockney accent!) it's with the prison lingo that will make no sense to those who don't know it, and from there on in he frequently opens his mouth with savage ferocity and intense profanity.

Starred Up is hailed as O'Connoll's 'break through' film, and there's no doubt he's running the show here, firmly commanding his presence as the explosive thug with raging personal issues blaring inside him, in a role that he's got form with and suits well. It's the closest thing he may well have in making him a household name, or at least getting a cult following among some. There are strong supporting turns also from Friend as the impassioned social worker and Mendolsohn as the closest thing to an authority figure O'Connoll will be made to respect. It's a film driven more by the nature of his respective relationships with these two men, and as such it feels more about these human dynamics rather than the story, which by the end has lost it's coherence a bit and loses your attention, despite the ensuing events still holding your attention for other reasons.

Still, sometimes, a film needs to come along that hits you like a punch in the dark, and Starred Up fits the bill perfectly, a brutal, unflinching expose of a world most of us probably don't want to imagine, a little flawed, but mostly solid. ****

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28 out of 38 people found the following review useful:

The tough and violent world of a British prison

Author: freemantle_uk from United Kingdom
24 March 2014

The prison sub-genre has produced many great films over the years, giving us the likes of The Shawshank Redemption, Hunger and Escape from Alcatraz. The critically acclaimed British movie Starred Up from Perfect Sense director David Mackenzie hopes to join their ranks.

Eric Love (Jack O'Connell) is a 19-year-old sent to adult prison two years early because he is known as 'starred up', a very violent offender. On his first day in prison, Eric manages to make a weapon, knocks out a fellow prisoner which causes a lock-down and fights the prison guards leading to him biting one of them in the testicles. Despite his violent behaviour, a prison volunteer, Oliver (Rupert Friend) offers to have Eric in his anger management group and help him change his behaviour. Nev (Ben Mendelsohn), Eric's father and fellow prisoner is forced to try and take his son under his wing, partly to protect him being killed by the crime boss of the prison, Spencer (Peter Ferdinando), because lock-downs disrupt business. But as Eric starts to manage his anger, he finds mentors from other prisoners, putting his father out of place as he tries to be the man he is meant to be.

Starred Up is a harsh look at the British prison system and tells an unconventional father and son relationship. Mackenzie uses hand-held cinematography, using sequences that are long takes and gives Starred Up a fly-on-the-wall feel, whether it was following Eric in the prison or simply watching Eric grow in the group sessions and control his anger. Mackenzie shows the violence as prisoners fight, stab and make weapons. He gives us some strong fighting sequences, such as Eric's first fight and a fight in a shower. There are plenty of elements that would remind people of other prison movies like Scum, A Prophet and Bronson, sharing visual cues when the camera follows Eric, makes his weapon and how he prepares for fights.

At times, Starred Up plays a little like a British version of the excellent HBO show Oz, taking a look at various factions in the prison. There are various criminal forces with their own angles, the personal vendettas between the prisoners and internal politics between prisoners and within the prison staff. There are debates within the prison staff, as they decide what is the best course with dealing with Eric. Oliver is made out to be a hopeful man who actually wants to reform prisoners, give them hope and elaborates on what is the point of prison, rehabilitation or punishment? This is an issue that has been debated in Britain since the end of the 18th century.

A key part of Starred Up is the relationship between Eric and Nev, both excellently played by O'Connell and Mendelsohn as they learn to actually become father and son. Nev has only one setting when dealing with Eric, aggression and shouting, believing he needs to be tough with Eric to get the message across. Yet, Nev states that Eric has a chance of getting released from prison and should play the system, just so he can get out. In prison, Eric finds other mentors in the form of Oliver and two other prisoners, Tyrone (David Ajala) and Hassan (Anthony Welsh) who wishes to usurp Nev's role.

Eric gets glimpses at what could be his future could be because of the different prisoners he is with. He could end up like his father, a violent lifer, a leading crime lord in prison or be like Tyrone (David Ajala) and Hassan (Anthony Welsh) and actually turn his life around.

Starred Up is a very macho film, filled with fighting, violence, male posturing and liberal uses of the f and c words as Mackenzie shows this very brutal, violent world. The only prominent female character is one of the Governors played by Sian Breckin and she is only a small role who appears in a few scenes. The female prison guards that appear in the movie are really speaking extras.

Mackenzie has shown himself to be a director who can get strong performances from his actors, such in his previous movie Perfect Sense. He again provides a strong work, through his hiring of a strong cast of respected actors. O'Connell gives a deliberately ambiguous performance as he is hard to read: he is a character that is anti-authority and willing to use his fists: but has some morals and ethics even in prison. Friend is very good in his role as Oliver, but he is made out to be a very nervous and timid character and even though he is a good natured character those traits for someone working with violent offenders.

Starred Up keeps to a British tradition of violent, kitchen sink realism, while the writer Jonathan Asser wants to tell a personal story. It is a brutal movie that makes sure that prison is a terrifying environment and fans of Scum and Oz should enjoy Starred Up.

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32 out of 46 people found the following review useful:

A window into the reality that is British society.

Author: JohnLamberio from Southampton, United Kingdom
22 July 2014

Firstly, this is not an uplifting or feel good film, nor was it ever intended to be. If you like your film gritty and pulsatingly realistic, you'd be going back years to find a film that stands up to this.

From the outset, it is clear our young protagonist is fighting not just for survival within a hardened prison wing, but also demons that reside within. Hope is offered in the shape of a freelancing counsellor, which is initially met with disdain during a group meeting. The film then continues to show(graphically), the complex arrangements within the prison walls, and how relationships can often start badly, but develop into a more meaningful co-existence ad friendship because of it.

The usual bad prison warden is on offer too, but is done so delectably well. The anger the viewer feels at certain points in this film is palpable from the sheer heartlessness of the authorities. Prisoner's are not viewed with any great sense of humanity, dependant on stature within the the Prison of course. The unfairness of it all had me wanting to wring the neck of certain characters, all due to the powerlessness of the our protagonists position.

Does the young charger hold back? Never. Like a bull ramming it's horns against an immovable wall, he keeps the pressure on inmates and authorities alike. It's a ferocious watch, and superbly realised by Jack O'Connell playing Eric, a star in the making for certain.

Terrific acting, superb directing, eye-watering set pieces and an emotive experience of life on the inside. Simply does not get better. 10/10

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24 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

most up to date and realistic prison film since "Scum"

Author: jasonedwar from uk
25 July 2014

don't know who made this film... just watched it last night...Was far better than i expected... No holds barred. Research has clearly been done well. acting was very good by all, especially the kid. surprised i haven't seen these people before. the violence depicted is brutal but accurate as an everyday occurrence in uk jails. even the methods used in applying that violence and the slang language are all about right. The only other film i can compare it to is "Bronson".. as thats the only other prison film i have seen recently. i would say bronson portrays dramatisation and artistic licence,, also i didn't find bronson to be consistent with the storyline....starred up is none of those,,,,the storyline is extremely consistent.. the only gripe i have with this film is that several obvious questions were left unanswered at the end. doesn't spoil the film though

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17 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

The best UK film of 2014

Author: estebangonzalez10 from Ecuador
10 January 2015

"Starred Up means you're leader."

Starred Up is unquestionably the best UK film of the year. It's no surprise because the best prison dramas that have come out over recent years come from Europe (think Bronson, Hunger, and A Prophet). What surprised me the most about Starred Up is that the humanity of these prisoners is never lost. These are guys who do questionable things and constantly have anger issues, but somehow as an audience we are still drawn to them and care for them. It isn't something easy to achieve but thanks to David Mackenzie's solid direction and Jonathan Asser's brilliant and realistic script we get an authentic prison drama with characters we can engage with and are worth investing in. Asser actually based the script on his personal experience when he worked as a voluntary therapist at a prison. It really comes through in the script because you have a sense that he sees these prisoners as actual human beings and not just stereotypical prisoners which we sometimes get from movies. He raises some important issues that most prison movies fail to do so and which concern him. There are two ways we can view prisons: as a place where we can set apart the criminals and keep them away from society or as a place where we send these criminals to be rehabilitated. He firmly believes in the second cause and that is why he includes a voluntary therapist in this film that is trying to rehabilitate some of these prisoners. These are issues that aren't usually raised in films of this genre, but through this authentic portrayal of life behind bars we get a sense of it. That is why Asser is so concerned with humanizing the main character, Eric Love, played brilliantly by Jack O'Connell (Unbroken), who has just been sent to prison after spending years in juvenile institutions for his violent behavior. He's sent to the same prison where his father (played by Ben Mendelsohn) has been spending most of his life. Their hurtful relationship gives us a glimpse of why Eric behaves the way he does and it is ultimately what engages the audience with his character. However my favorite aspect of the film is the relationship he shares with the therapist (Rupert Friend) who is trying to help with his violent nature. The film is gritty and it also has a lot going on with the rest of the prisoners and guards as well. As opposed to what we feel for the prisoners, the guards don't really view their humanity. Starred Up succeeds as an authentic portrayal inside a prison.

This is only the second time I have seen a film directed by David Mackenzie and he is back on my radar now. I had seen Spread, starring Ashton Kutcher, and I really disliked that movie. This film felt like it was directed by a completely different person. A lot of the credit has to be given to the screenwriter for writing such a compelling prison drama with scenes that you are completely invested in and have you at the edge of your seat. But of course one can't leave out the brilliant performance from Jack O'Connell who delivers one of the most memorable prisoner characters I've seen. His physical performance is just inspiring. There are a number of secondary characters that will also be remembered. Ben Mendelsohn as Eric's father is great and so is Friend as the therapist. I enjoyed many of the interactions Eric had with them and with some of his inmates. There are several things going on as we sort of get a slice of life of these prisoners life. I may have been describing this film mostly as a drama, but believe me there are several moments of incredible tension and gritty violence. It balances these themes very well and makes for a compelling watch.

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13 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

Don't mess with Eric

Author: Laakbaar from The Netherlands
25 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a grittily realistic British prison drama about a young, arrogant and uncontrollable thug who is transferred to the adult prison where his father is also incarcerated for life. He immediately establishes his credentials as a violent psycho not to be messed with. (I kept expecting the cliché scene of the new guy getting hazed -- or worse -- by the current inmates, but that is not what happens to Eric at all.) Eric is a force of nature. The other inmates are now in his world.

After a while, pretty well everyone is negatively affected in some way because of his arrival and actions, including his father and others trying to help him; however, the important question in the narrative apparently is whether he will have a reconciliation with his equally messed-up father.

This sometimes shocking movie provides us a fascinating insight into a hidden, bleak world none of us will ever experience (assuming the best of IMDb readers). For most of us, it is as alien as Avatar. If this movie is to be believed, UK prisons are primitive places -- except for the gloriously articulate streams of chav profanity, which were like Shakespearean curses. UK prisons are apparently more like US prisons than Dutch or Scandinavian prisons.

Strangely, I felt sympathy for Eric, even at his most animalistic. It helps that he had this youthful face. You can only wonder what kind of childhood would have produced such rage and violence. But Eric is no victim. Quite the contrary. At the age of 10, he melted the face off of a pedophile who had picked the wrong boy.

It was nice to see a movie that relies on an extreme setting, interesting story, fine writing and good acting. It almost felt like a fly-on-the wall documentary. Like many British movies, you get the feeling that the actors are really the characters. Despite its content, this was actually an intelligent and nuanced movie.

Fortunately, there were Dutch subtitles at my viewing because much of the dialogue was difficult to understand.

Also, although this is a bloody movie, no gory scene truly disturbed me, and I am squeamish when it comes to that.

I'm giving it an 8 rather than a 9 because of the film's downbeat tone. British movie makers have a disturbing way of trying to get you to care about lowlife. This film is so NOT Hollywood. In the Hollywood version, Oliver would have succeeded in rehabilitating Eric. In this very British movie, we are left to wonder what the hell happened to Oliver. I suppose the underlying message here is that therapy and rehabilitation are just not possible for someone like Eric, even by someone like Oliver. With him, you're just pissing against the wind.

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9 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

This might be the best of all British prison pictures.

Author: Martin Bradley ( from Derry, Ireland
11 January 2015

Of all the films made about the British prison system David MacKenzie's "Starred Up" may be the best. It's deeply angry, very violent and totally without sentimentality even if its premiss, (a father and son are banged up together in the same prison), threatens to slide into melodrama. In these roles Ben Mendelsohn and relative newcomer Jack O'Connell are superb. O'Connell, in particular, is extraordinary. From the first moment he appears he's like some frightened but very dangerous animal ready to lash out at anything and everyone, which he frequently does. They are the lynch-pins of a terrific ensemble playing fellow prisoners and various prison staff, none of whom actually appear to be acting, (but for its slightly glossy sheen this could be a documentary).

Even at their worst, most prison films tend to paint their prisons as places of almost romantic camaraderie with prisoners united as one against the brutal screws. Not here; here it's every man for himself in a kill or be killed world where violence isn't so much a daily occurrence but something that seems to be happening on the hour every hour while the screws are seen as mostly venal men and women perpetuating an already corrupt system. The title, by the way, refers to a prisoner who is considered highly dangerous but what this amazing film shows is that, however fouled up that system is, redemption of a kind is still possible. It was filmed in its entirety at the Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast and at the Maze Prison, Long Kesh and it never moves outside.

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Jack O'Connell is brilliant

Author: Tom147 from England
29 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Starred up is all about prison life for a youngster who is transfered. The whole film takes place in the prison but it is incredibly gripping thanks to Jack O'Connell's terrific performance. You really get to know his character and feel the emotion that he is going through. Everything is done incredibly well. If you are easily offended by bad language or brutal fighting then do not watch as it is certainly one of the most brutal and shocking films I have seen. Without giving too much away, I highly recommend this film. It goes straight in to my top 10 of 2013. Well done Jack O'Connell.


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