17/03/2014

Starred Up

Every year there's a star-making performance everyone loses their shit over and if anyone else manages to burst onto the scene and overshadow Jack O'Connell it'll be an act of wizardry. I'm calling it: he'll be nominated for the BAFTA Rising Star award and will probably win depending on how many of his Skins fans vote. This guy has gone from This Is England to nipple extravaganza 300: Rise of an Empire in a few years but this is the first film to harness his rough-around-the-edges charm and his performance is nothing short of a revelation.

"Starred up" is the term given to young offenders who are promoted, if you can even call it that, to big boy prison for being violent bastards. But Eric (O'Connell) isn't bothered about being the new boy in school amongst some of the nastiest criminals in Britain and promptly shows that by taking on blokes twice his size. Things get interesting when Eric is reunited with his dad Neville (the ubiquitous Ben Mendelsohn) who happens to be behind the same bars as the offspring he and his ex fucked up royally as a child. A violent and disturbed kid from a broken and unstable home who follows in his father's criminal footsteps sounds like an excerpt from The Big Book of Movie cliches, and while Starred Up is already being lazily tagged as the best British prison film since Scum it really deserves to stand up on its own.

The volatile chemistry between father and son is the core of the film but there's also a look at those who try to rehabilitate (I know what you think it means, sonny) these damaged and violent young men; in this case being the mild-mannered Oliver (Rupert Friend) who acts as the cinematic version of writer Jonathan Asser's experiences as an unpaid therapist in Wandsworth Prison. The group scenes make Eric question who he is and who he wants to be with his now reformed fellow prisoners giving him the role model he never had.

Starred Up is not an easy watch but it's a must-see British film destined for cult status with a central performance worth raving about. Just don't do a shot every time someone says "facking cunt". You'll be dead.