Starred Up

I’m a sucker for any art form that has grit, character, heart and integrity. Starred Up has it all. Set in a modern day prison (Mark, this is what a real prison looks like) the story picks up as a 19 year old (Jack O’Connell) is sent to an adult prison for an undisclosed crime. From the beginning I was enthralled by the young O’Connell who not only plays his character with intensity and accuracy, but manages to be quite endearing regardless of his aggressive and sometimes unpredictable behaviour. It doesn’t take time for O’Connell to feel at home within the starredpenitentiary walls. It’s almost like coming to prison was all part of a master plan to reunite with his estranged father. The cast, which I did not recognize by name but rather by previous works is composed of Rupert Friend (Homeland) Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Night Rises, Killing Them Softly)  is also quite stellar.  Mendelsohn, who is  serving time in prison, is tasked with playing O’Connell’s caring but ultimately inadequate father.

As part of the prison routine, O’Connell is forced to attend group therapy. In comes Rupert Friend, an ultra-caring counselor who seems to have O’Connell’s best interest at heart and shows hints of a checkered past himself and turns out to be our delinquent’s only chance at redemption.  It’s safe to assume O’Connell has very little upbringing. His strengths consist of aggressiveness, fearlessness and a strong will to stand up for himself amongst a cohort of rapists, murderers and thieves.

For me, the true villain of this film is poor parenting, which left me with existential questions. For example, is it fair for a child to be thrown in prison because his father was an incompetent fuck? Is the prison system the right place for most criminals? Especially young ones. Are there any decent alternatives? And also, why is prison culture something we accept as a society? We are all aware that people get raped, stabbed, shanked, shived, beaten and even killed in prison. So why is that acceptable? Because they’re are criminals? That doesn’t fly with me.

Throughout the movie the director, David Mackenzie, tackles themes of abandonment, social justice, family and in the end our humanity. We all go through trials and tribulation but unfortunately who you were born to will, more often than not, tell you what your trials will be and what tribulations await.

I totally recommend this film to anyone who enjoys good cinema. The script, the cinematography (which I know very little about) the acting, and the soul of this movie were all very satisfying to me.

 

7.5  out of 10

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3 thoughts on “Starred Up

  1. Jay

    Isn’t it depressing how the prison itself mocks the therapeutic process? They don’t believe there’s even a point. You’re right, Luc, about “prison culture’ being weirdly accepted. All these horrendous things take place, and this movie is pretty brutal in its honest portrayal of some of them, and it’s not just the prison system turning the blind eye, it’s us as well. Certainly these people are in prison for a reason – ostensibly, to be punished, as well as to keep the rest of us safe – but what kind of person can survive that culture, and who does he become to do it? And who will he be upon release?

    Is there really such thing as “no hope”? The prison system seems to genuinely believe that some of these guys are sub-human, beyond any redemption, with a goal not just of imprisoning them, but making sure they never get out, not matter the sentence. I don’t have a whole lot of violent tendencies myself, but to be so thoroughly degraded on a daily basis, I can’t say what that would do to me.

    The father-son relationship is complex because it seems to have pretty much never existed outside the prison walls. Neville seems to have some fatherly feeling toward his son but as a lifer, his world view is so skewed that he can hardly be relied upon for anything sound or sane. He’d rather his son lie and fake his way out of prison. The counselor seems like a better choice as a father figure because he actually believes that maybe Eric could be helped, could become a decent person.

    Final shot of the movie: a revolving door. Reminds me of an interview I had once, for a counselling position at a homeless shelter. They asked me how I would cope, working in an environment that is basically a revolving door – sure, some get out, but they often come right back in. And prison is the same. But is my job futile just because some will repeat their mistakes? Should we just stop trying? I hope not.

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