Thursday, January 1, 2015

Indie Review: Starred Up (2014)

              A Hellish Yet Complex Prison Drama That Shows The Arrival Of A New Kind Of 'Star'-Making Turn
        Prison is hell. Those of us that have never been there don't exactly have to experience life in prison to know how harsh it is. But while Starred Up is about the harsh realities of prison, it interestingly shows how those jailed there can rise above their rough situation they still landed themselves in through its complex telling of father-son dynamic.

    Starred Up follows the story of a 19-year old juvenile teen named Eric Love (Jack O'Connell) who has gotten "starred up" or moved into an adult prison where he is reunited with his father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn).

  Now, what was the biggest surprise about the film was how even though it is a prison drama, it isn't primarily about prison life. It's kind of like how Whiplash isn't really about jazz, but more about the psychological toll that comes with being an artist. Starred Up, however, is more about father-son relationships and dynamics. Even though Eric is reunited with his father and Neville tries to make sure he goes down the right path, Eric is still surrounded by father figures, like his psychiatrist, that barge into this whole dynamic that Eric and Neville struggle to develop. So, the film is more about the importance of fathers and what makes a father figure, but uses its prison setting as its backdrop. Screenwriter Jonathan Asser, who apparently had experience working as a prison therapist, creates a rather complex story and I loved his subtle use of introducing his characters like opening the fikm with hardly any dialogue and not having Eric say something like "Hi Dad" to indicate that Neville is his father when they first meet in the film. He lets us figure things out for ourselves and I loved that.

     Next, I'll get into the acting. Jack O'Connell is a force of nature as Eric. What was so fascinating about his performance is that while his character is unhinged, I was unsure when or if he would strike. His character is like a battered dog that bites anything that strikes his path yet O'Connell brings so much charisma that like a dog that has been abused, I couldn't help but feel sympathy for him. This performance could very well be his Marlon Brando moment and I look forward to what he is going to do next. Another MVP I'd like to acknowledge is Ben Mendelsohn as Neville. Mendelsohn is incredibly three-dimensional as a prisoner who serves as a small ringleader in his wing, a tough and brooding master to his son, and his comforting father that he continues to be despite the mishaps Eric gets into. Plus, Rupert Friend gives amazing dynamic work as the psychologist Oliver who tries to Eric even though hardly anyone else will.

     Another thing I liked was the cinematography by Michael McDonough. I loved how even though he gives the film nice and colorful lighting, the film still has a gritty and no-holds-barred atmosphere and both he and director David Mackenzie do long continuous takes to not cut away from the harsh and violent realities of prison life.


  Overall, Starred Up is a brooding and complex prison drama about the powerful father-son dynamic. Jack O'Connell gives a different kind of star-is-born performance while Mendelsohn delivrers powerful character work with vastly different facets. The direction is also no-holds-barred while the screenplay is masterful and I hope this film manages to somehow find its audience.

      Would I Recommend It?:
   Yes, but not to everybody. It is a well-crafted film, but it has plenty of graphic violence and even some nudity that might make some viewers uncomfortable. So even though it is a powerful prison drama, it isn't necessarily Shawshank. But if the violence and nudity don't bother you, then definitely try and seek it.

Grade: A+