Violent prison dramas with raw angry men desperately displaying their machismo just to survive the regime of brutality that pervades in jails always have an underlying tone of homo-eroticism in them. ‘Starred Up’ with a brilliant career-making performance from 23-year-old Jack O’Connell is one such movie especially as it has the near-obligatory shower scene that ends in a naked fight.


O’Connell plays troublesome teenager Eric Love who has been moved from a juvenile detention facility as they cannot handle him any more. Unlike the other inmates banged up in this adult jail, he doesn’t want to get out, as the reason he has forced the authorities to send him to an adult prison, is that his father, who he barely knows, has been serving time there for the past 14 years.

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The back-story as to how these two ended up being incarcerated is vague to say the least but it’s not that important as its the attempt at reconciliation between father and son that is the focus of the story. He may only be 19, but Eric is a hardened criminal who knows how to work the system, which only serves to enrage the corrupt prison guards who are determined that they will not be beaten by this youth, even if it means actually having him killed. Their undisguised anger is matched by the determination of a do-gooder volunteer social worker who is insistent that he can cure Eric, and maybe even his father, by some simplistic anger-management.

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It gets a tad confusing on occasion when the men’s shouting matches become incoherent, but one doesn’t need subtitles to get the gist of the violent action most of the time. This is essentially Eric’s story and of the way that he has deliberately chosen to develop into manhood. We are never sure either because of the script, or O’Connell’s mesmerizing performance, if the boy actually loves his father or really wants him dead.

Directed by David McKenzie (‘Young Adam’, ‘Hallam Foe’) from a script by Jonathan Asser based on his own experiences as a prison social work. Even with strong supporting performances from Ben Mendelsohn as the father and Rupert Friend as the social worker, this film, one of the very best prison dramas for a long time, completely belongs to Eric, thanks to O’Connell’s portrayal. We are bound to see a lot more of this actor as he destined for stardom.
P.S. Starred Up is a term used in the UK to describe the early transfer of a criminal from a Young Offender Institution to an adult prison.
by Roger Walker-Dack
About the author: Roger Walker-Dack
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