Starred Up (2014)

The biggest problem with this film is that, for the most part is a generic British prison drama, however there are some moments of originality and greatness kind of shine through the clouds of mediocrity, and while those moments aren’t fully expanded upon it does at the very least, make the film watchable.

Every single performance in this film is solid, none more so than the always great Ben Mendelsohn, who plays the father of our main character who is played by Jack O’Connell. Now, in my opinion Jack O’Connell always plays the same type of role, “hard man with a heart of gold”. Now, granted i haven’t seen all of his performances but i have seen more than enough for me to know that most of the roles he does get fit that monicker. That isn’t to say that he is just on auto-pilot throughout the film, he really puts his everything into this role and is very convincing. It also helps that he has this great, raw and visceral chemistry with Mendelsohn and they bounce off each other very nicely.

The group therapy sessions in this film are very reminiscent of the therapy sessions in ‘Good Will Hunting’ or at least it tries to be, because although these sessions are by far the most interesting parts of the film, they are always cut short before the mix of emotions and performances are ready to boil and explode like they did in ‘Good Will Hunting’ and instead every scene in the therapy session is just a simmer. If the film would have focused more on these sessions then not only would it be a much superior film, it would set itself apart from the hundreds of other British prison dramas out there.

The directing seemed very laid back, David Mackenzie just seemed to let everything unfurl naturally and while a lot of times this can come off as lazy or even bad directing, it worked in the prison setting and made the scenes seemed more natural. On the back of that, while the script, for the most part was very generic, the dialogue was a lot more real than a lot of other prison dramas. Again, it felt natural and just amplified the entire ambiance of the film.

The story felt like it wanted to be more than it actually was and it felt very muddled, we spend time on lingering plot points that have no resolution or relevance to the overall story and while they were interesting, could easily have been fleshed out or even cut for time constraints or to improve the pacing. While the pacing was by no means bad it did have certain lulls throughout that I feel with tighter editing would have made the film consistently flow throughout.

Overall if you are into British prison dramas then you’ll love this as it is more of the same with some dashes of originality and intrigue sprinkled throughout, and if you aren’t a fan of British prison dramas then I would still say that you should give it a chance as some aspects make the film worth watching.


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