TIFF Day 7: Starred Up

I’m skipping two days of the festival because I didn’t watch any movies during those days. While I spent my hours volunteering (and even opening the door for Jay Baruchel!), I was a bit sad that I missed a screening of The Double and the premiere of Don Jon.

That being said, I made the really good decision of treating myself to a press screening of Starred Up, a British drama directed by David Mackenzie.

Starred Up surrounds Eric, a troubled and extremely violent teenager (Skins alum Jack O’Connell), who is transferred to an adult prison which just so happens to house his father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn). Capturing the attention and sympathy of  support worker Oliver (Rupert Friend),  he tries to help Eric rehabilitate while Neville’s own violent nature and jealousy gets in the way.

In a nutshell, the film seemed rather authentic. Featuring extreme close-ups, precise editing (especially during fight scenes) and hard-to-understand prison lingo used in the UK, there is no sugar-coating here. In fact, many of the scenes are rather harsh and brutal, especially during scenes in the prison cells where one can feel claustrophobic and in need of a shower.

As I said before, the lingo is a bit hard to comprehend…making it hard to find out what each inmate’s stories are. But the good here is undoubtedly O’Connell, whose performance is so scary and violent that it almost makes me scared to approach him in real life. (Thankfully though, this video put all my fears aside.) As Eric, he is incredibly quick on his feet. Just watching a sequence of him making a weapon out of a toothbrush and razor indicates how much of a threat he can be.

Though the story here is more of a portrait/documentation of Eric’s time in prison, he’s supported by the very good Friend and Mendelsohn, who each try to help the youngster in their own ways. Friend’s Oliver tries his best to offer support as a compassionate prison volunteer. And while Mendelsohn’s Neville tries hard to father his son, his intentions  proves to be more detrimental as his temper and violent nature gets in the way.

Starred Up is a realistic and compelling tale, documenting the lives of prison inmates. If that doesn’t interest you, it might be worth a shot to check it out just for O’Connell, who has proven himself a worthy actor since appearing on Skins UK.  He does some of his finest, most intense work here and all of it feels very real. Getting the lingo, mannerisms and emotions just right, O’Connell is the one to watch for years to come.


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