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article imageReview: ‘Starred Up’ gives prison films an upgrade Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 16, 2013 in Entertainment
‘Starred Up’ is about a troubled, violent teenager who is transferred to adult prison where he meets his father for the first time in more than a decade.
Stories told within the American penal system tend to follow a similar trajectory of in-house hierarchies, prison rape and crooked guards. Whether these films display honest portraits of jail is debatable, but the predictability of many of the depictions is not. Starred Up is a U.K. production that delivers a unique portrayal of an incarcerated teen whose already been written off by the system.
Eric (Jack O'Connell) was moved from juvenile to adult detention at 19, two years earlier than scheduled. The reason becomes clear shortly after his arrival as he exhibits aggressive, violent and generally disruptive behavior. Eric quickly draws the attention of Oliver (Rupert Friend), the prison's anger management counselor; and his father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who is a lifer incarcerated in the same wing. Both attempt to get through to the teen – the former through care and understanding, and the latter with orders and tough love. But Eric has always been let down by everyone and convincing him people want to help with no strings attached is a difficult task.
The script is based on the real-life observations of a prison counselor. It's raw and violent, but it's also very emotionally charged. Eric doesn't know how to trust anyone. He's suspicious of people's motives and has difficulty understanding why someone might do something nice for him without requesting anything in return. Oliver recognizes this immediately and goes to great lengths to convince Eric and the prison governor that he'd benefit from joining his therapy group.
Neville would like to see Eric rehabilitated as well, but many of his actions are counter-productive. Though there is some desperation in his attempts to scare Eric straight – Neville is informed Eric will be killed if he continues to bring the guards into the wing with his lashing out.
This powerful representation of life behind bars packs a powerful punch that leaves its mark on audiences. The authentic script is supported by incredibly strong acting that genuinely captures the multifaceted experiences of growing up in the system.
Starred Up screened as part of the Special Presentation programme during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
Director: David Mackenzie
Starring: Rupert Friend, Ben Mendelsohn and Jack O'Connell
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