A star is born in Starred Up. From the minute Jack O’Connell swaggers onscreen he electrifies the picture with the kind of fearless and commanding performance that recalls Ray Winstone’s breakthrough in Scum. O’Connell plays Eric, a violent young offender who has been 'starred up' to an adult jail and finds himself incarcerated alongside his estranged dad (a typically intimidating Ben Mendelsohn).
The story that plays out might have seemed over-familiar and too obviously symbolic if it wasn’t for the uncommon sense of authenticity that comes through in the script by former prison therapist Jonathan Asser, and the manner in which he and director David Mackenzie immerse us in this environment. Mackenzie skilfully sketches the sense of community and hierarchy that prison life is built upon, and makes us keenly aware of the simmering aggression that threatens to boil over at any time. Only towards the end does the film settle for something sensationalistic and conventional; until then, this is a bruising, hugely impressive drama with a tender core under its abrasive surface. [Philip Concannon]
Released 21 Mar by Fox Searchlight