Young violent offender Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) is “starred up,” which is to say that he is transferred to adult prison from juvenile detention. After several violent altercations between Eric and both inmates and prison guards, he is put into rehabilitative treatment with volunteer psychologist Oliver Baumer (Rupert Friend). Serving a life sentence in the same prison is Love’s father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who does his best to protect the kid from acting out in a way that could get himself killed.
Starred Up is a breakout performance for O’Connell. Eric is a short fuse with a checkered past, but most of that past is all held inside. O’Connell embodies a juvenile delinquent holding in baggage as if he has been doing it himself his whole life.
Mendelsohn also gives a strong performance. As an absentee father suddenly reintroduced to his son, he plays the supporting role with a lot of nuance. Neville has the same aggressive streak as his son, but he also adapts to the role of a father in an interesting way.
Starred Up is an insight into the punitive system. It is a look into the ideological battle between retributive punishment and rehabilitative practices. As fiery as it is to see the violent outbursts, it is equally intense to see the rehab group rise to verbal conflicts that brew to a near boil before simmering down. The best scenes are those in which the rehab group is interacting in session. All of the conspiratorial and violent aspects of the rest of the prison become white noise during these moments.
Strip away the grit of this film, and you are left with passionate and heartfelt scenes of characters learning to cope with a life and an environment that they never signed up for. Inside these scenes is a subtext heavily laden with themes of punitive philosophy that is thought provoking.
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen Starred Up? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)