Latest Review – Starred Up [Blu-ray] [Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment]

Starred Up

Director: David Mackenzie

Studio: Film4 | Creative Scotland | Quickfire Films | Northern Ireland Screen | LipSync Productions | Sigma Films

Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Year: 2013

Country: United Kingdom

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 106 minutes (1:45:56)

Region Code: Region B [Locked]

Certificate: 18 (Very strong language, strong violence)

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Original Aspect Ratio)

Video: 1080p High Definition (24fps)

Codec: MPEG-4 | AVC

Image: Colour

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 [Main Feature] | English Dolby Digital 5.1 [Audio Description Track]

Language: English

Subtitles: Optional English SDH

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Not since Alan Clarke’s seminal 1979 borstal movie, ‘Scum’ has British cinema seen a prison drama as bold, brutal and altogether unflinching as David Mackenzie’s ‘Starred Up’

Deemed too difficult for the Young Offender Institution he has previously been housed in, explosive and ultra-violent 19-year old, Eric Love is ‘Starred Up’ and transferred to the same adult prison as his estranged father, Neville, two years under the accepted minimum age.

During the initial processing at the maximum-security unit to which he has be transferred, Eric seems almost placid and unfazed as he is coldly strip-searched and led to his new single-cell home. We then witness the apparently acceptive Eric familiarise himself with his new surroundings and calmly prepare a makeshift blade from an old razor and toothbrush, which he proceeds to hide in the fluorescent light casing above him.

However, it is not long before the emotional scarring and explosive temperament which have led to his transfer are quickly unearthed, when only moments later he douses himself in oil and proceeds to attack three heavily armoured officers with splintered planks of wood.

Swiftly making enemies in both fellow inmates and prison authorities, Eric’s afflicted character makes him the perfect candidate for an experimental anger-management/therapy group, run by kindly volunteer psychotherapist, Oliver. Though firmly against the idea to begin with, Eric soon comes around to Oliver’s unorthodox methods and even begins to display little hints of reform.

Unsurprisingly though, the hostile father-son relationship between self-destructive Eric and feared ‘prison psychopath’ Neville soon rears its violent head. Neville’s stern commands only serve to further enrage his son and, unsure as to whether or not his father is there to protect him from making the same mistakes he did, Eric finds himself in a fight for his life and it seems that the young man’s fate is forever sealed. The intense chemistry between O’Connell’s Eric and Mendelsohn’s Neville is exceptional and in Neville’s deep-rooted affection and protective paternal instinct towards his son, which is never fully reciprocated, the film delivers memorable moments of genuine emotion and poignancy.

Inspired by scriptwriter Jonathan Asser’s own experiences working as a voluntary therapist with some of the country’s most violent criminals at HM Prison Wandsworth, and shot entirely on location in Northern Ireland, between the former prisons of HM Prison Crumlin Road, Belfast (the only Victorian era prison still remaining in Northern Ireland) and HM Prison MazeLisburn (perhaps best known as the prison in which Bobby Sands instigated the 1981 Hunger Strike), the film’s authenticity, fearless approach and dynamic sense of realism and claustrophobia are undoubtedly the elements which render the film as powerful and impressive as it ultimately proves.

If the performances from the central trio of Jack O’Connell as Eric, Ben Mendelsohn as Neville and Rupert Friend as Oliver are outstanding, then the supporting ensemble are equally as strong and well cast, featuring notable performances from the likes of Peter Ferdinando as prison Kingpin, Spencer and Sam Spruell as the no-nonsense Deputy Governor Hayes. Derby-born O’Connell maintains a very convincing Cockney accent throughout, though I cannot help but feel that the character would have been just that bit more convincing had he been allowed to use his familiar Northern delivery. Mendelsohn again displays a generally effective accent, though his native Australian lilt does threaten to creep in on a few occasions.

Starred Up may offer viewers an authentic, no holds barred portrait of prison life, but what is impressive is the fact that there is not even the slightest attempt to glorify prison life here. It is fair to say that the film does not prove easy or comfortable viewing, and of course might be a little too much for some, however what cannot be denied is that ‘Starred Up’ is a superb achievement and David Mackenzie and Jonathan Asser have delivered one of the most impressive, affecting and worthwhile British prison dramas in memory.

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Special Features:

Starred Up Featurette (0:10:16)

Film4 Channel Interview with Jack O’Connell and David Mackenzie (0:10:09)

Behind The Scenes (0:03:36)

Cast & Crew (0:07:45)

Theatrical Trailer (0:01:41)

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Release Date: 4 August, 2014

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