Daily | David Mackenzie’s STARRED UP

Starred Up

‘Starred Up’

So now that the British Independent Film Awards have announced that Starred Up has scored eight nominations, more than any other film (though Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant comes close with seven), let’s have a look at some of the most notable reviews so far. When it screened in Toronto, Jay Kuehner took it on for Cinema Scope: “British. Prison. Drama. Say it and sigh: Where can the genre go, post-Scum, Porridge, Bad Girls, Ghosted, Screwed, Hunger? Nonetheless, David Mackenzie (Young Adam) makes a gritty bid for the pantheon with this initially lean and suitably mean rendering of a typically corrupt prison system where inmates are predestined for internecine feuds and cigarettes, cellphones, and verbal barbs constitute the medium of exchange.”

“Jack O’Connell (some may know him from the second season of the British show Skins) stars as an on-the-edge kid thrown into a violent adult prison.” When he caught Starred Up at Telluride, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Eugene Hernandez got a few words with the director: “Mackenzie singled out Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped as a reference for his prison drama, but he added that he hopes it will also resonate on an emotional, more universal level.”

“In the opening scenes,” writes the Telegraph‘s Tim Robey, “Eric is admitted, stripped, and shown to his cell, which he proceeds to customize with lightning speed. He melts a toothbrush and sticks a razor blade on one end, fashioning a scary-looking shank, then uses the other to unscrew a strip-light—his hiding-place. This is excellent, wordless exposition—we see exactly how practiced and quick off the mark he is in jail. O’Connell gives him a dangerous swagger, too, a fearlessness in his new environment which can only bode trouble.”

“Every interaction is volatile,” writes Fernando F. Croce in the Notebook: “one dumb, abrupt gesture is enough to get the protagonist surrounded by charging guards, so he simply smashes a table and brandishes the splintery pieces, ready for battle. Trapped by grids within grids, O’Connell and his prison-kingpin father (Ben Mendelsohn) are forced to face their jagged bonds. All of Mackenzie’s characters in Young Adam and Asylum and Mister Foe are prisoners in one way or another, and his latest is a family drama and a love story dressed in penitentiary grays, a tale about people slamming into each other and into their own limitations, a chain of alliances brutally damaged and tentatively mended. Each punch is felt deeply.”

“There’s something primal about the way these inmates communicate, mixing their heavily accented British prison slang with bursts of spontaneous aggression,” writes Variety‘s Peter Debruge. “As prison films go, Starred Up hits all the usual bases with blistering naturalism: There’s brawling in the corridors, sexual tension in the showers and corruption among the guards. But the plot defies the genre, and its two central performances rank on par with those in 2009’s A Prophet.”

Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn: “Filmed with a shaky cam style and filled with bloody punches and shouting matches, Starred Up thrusts viewers into its protagonists’ disturbed mindset, which elevates the eventual moment when the two central men start to make progress to profound emotional heights.”

For Bob Turnbull, “the film is nigh on perfect in its depiction of not just brutal life in the slammer, but of the different ways men desperately crave respect (in all its forms) and the lengths to which they will go to get it.”

The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy suggests that Starred Up “will be remembered as the film that announced a new star, Jack O’Connell.” His “performance is so volatile and scary that you never know when he’ll pop next and what he might do.”

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