Starred Up – Review

 

When, according to a study a few months ago, only 7% of British films manage to make a profit these days, it’s anyone's guess as to which is the more baffling pre-occupation of British filmmakers: prison dramas or Jack O’Connell. 

 

As far as prison dramas go, we’ve seen the hackneyed story of “a young man making his bones on the inside” at least three times now in two years (Offender, Screwed, Ghosted, the titles are usually kept simple). O’Connell meanwhile has played the same character in  nearly everything he’s been in to date: British Last House On The Left knock-off? Well, that’ll be an evil thug. British History X? Racist thug. Michael Caine does Death Wish? Mollested thug. 300: Rise Of An Empire? Greek thug. Tower Block? You can probably guess at least the second half. The point being that both prison dramas and the standard Jack O’Connell “performance” are simply repetitive and have, in recent times, been done to death; making the most interesting (sic) part of Starred Up the notion that someone actually thought to combine the two, and that they forgot to invite Danny Dyer along to top off proceedings.

 

The token troubled youth, O’Connell’s Eric is put into the same prison as his estranged father – under whose discipline he swiftly falls – and is ordered into therapy to learn how to function better in a group setting. Bizarrely, none of that is a joke, that genuinely is the plot of Starred Up; the title of which is dangled over it’s audience for a hundred agonisingly long minutes as if it’s definition were tantamount to the explanation of Rosebud.

 

With one of the most hilariously poor scripts you’ll encounter this year, Starred Up briefly manages to be “laughably bad” until it swiftly reaches a point at which its own complete lack of self-awareness renders it simply “bad”. Director David Mackenzie, the man behind the 2011 faux-iMovie ad Perfect Sense, seems to be doing his best impersonation of a Z-list regional British filmmaker who’s recently learnt how to add lens flare in After Effects. His direction is flat – faintly competent at best – and made worse by the juvenile second-year film-student stylisation. That the performances throughout as are soul-numbingly terrible as they are is merely the icing on the cake, with Ben Mendelsohn for example desperately clinging to a sense of credibility the film simply does not have.

 

It’s a film that truly epitomises the dire state of the homegrown British film industry today  – an industry in which multiple displays of ungroomed pubic hair are considered enough to qualify a film as “gritty” – with a one-trick pony star, a script that even soap actors would turn their noses up at and a frankly misguided perception of it’s own imagined brilliance. You’ll be hard-pressed in trying to find any semblance of creativity or intelligence in Starred Up, any at all, and – while the trailer may have arrived gift-wrapped in glowing reviews from more specialist men’s magazines – it’s hard not to see the film for what it truly is: a film the average Nuts reader will look at and see as their equivalent to The Shawshank Redemption.

 

 

Catch Van Connor’s reviews in our Movies section and live on Slam Dunk Cinema every Saturday at 12PM on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM or on the podcast via iTunes.

 

In it
Jack O’Connell, Rupert Friend, Ben Mendelsohn

Behind it
David Mackenzie




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