It still remains as one of the best cinematographic ways to paint a portrait of a society by telling us about those who were exiled.
Thus we are in a position to wonder by which means the director David MacKenzie – whose most known movie until now is Spread, starring the ex cougars amateur Ashton Kutcher- would impose a new vision which would put it at its glorious predecessors’ level…
The answer holds in two words: the characters, because if he does not revolutionize prison movies, due to its direction or its story, MacKenzie weaves us a gallery of characters rarely seen previously, starting with young Eric Love, main protagonist of the movie.
Where 90 % of the directors would introduce a new prisoner in the prison system and the urgency with which he would have to learn all the codes and the functionings, for the only means of survival ; MacKenzie rubs us up the wrong way from the first five minutes by presenting us an Eric by no means intimidated by the world which surrounds him and perfectly hardened to the prison system.
The boy, accustomed to jails for 10 years, makes a weapon straightaway and is well decided not to be a doormat; a determination combined to carefreeness which, in the end, risks to be fatal to him, because in this prison where the slightest look of fault or badly placed word is a synonym of death sentence, Eric makes no difference between the underaged prison which he has just left and that of the adults.
His father, also imprisoned, understands the situation and is going to make every effort to bring him out of this spiral of violence, thanks to an anger control program.
In a universe which does not accept the aggravated feelings, the ambivalence of the father/ son relationship is fascinating in many respects, enters the doggedness of this father who, noticing the failure of his own life, wants to find a redemption by protecting the last thing which matters to him; and Eric, willing to be worth his father, locks himself in this ultra violence; we realize that this movie is much more than a jail movie.
Even if the movie is violent due to its realistic showing of life-in-jail-conditions and rough in its fight scenes Starred up is most of all a family drama, one of the most poignant that we have seen for the last past years, he reminds us at times of this relationship between Mads Mikkelsen and Leif Silvester Petersen in the second shutter of Pusher.
Far from making it of simple monolithic figures, MacKenzie brilliantly explores the weaknesses of his characters, the looks and the unspoken matter enormously, especially in the proud impossibility of the father and the son to say these three simple words to each other : ” I love you”.
These scenes bring to the narrative all its salt and eats at the spectator at times.
Supporting roles are not outdone either, obviously a gallery of such complex characters ought to have an impeccable cast, and it is impeccable. Rupert Friend is excellent as a disenchanted psychologist trying vainly to find a meaning to the life of these often sentenced to life imprisonment prisoners, as if to give a meaning to his own life.
The movie does not hesitate to align a series of broken faces each even scarrier than the other, looking ready to explode. From the manager of the sadistic prison to the local godfather, the danger can come from anywhere, plunging the spectator into a state of extreme tension.
But especially Starred Up finally gives the opportunity to Jack O’ Connell to explode on screen in a leading part.
Monster of charisma capable of going from an emotion to another one in a simple roll of the eyes, the one who was revealed by the paralyzing Eden Lake embarks us on its destructive madness with such a mastery, proving that at the age of 23, his shoulders are wide enough to carry a movie on his own, and joins in the lineage of one Tom Hardy or Tahar Rahim, also revealed by jail movies.
Having impressed us by the numerous face to face between him and his father, embodied by the impressive Ben Mendelsohn, we could not but advise the producers to give more and more his chance to this actor who is clearly one of the best of his generation.
Even if we would have liked to take a film slap of the same strength as Jack O’ Connell’s flying punches, it will unfortunately still be necessary to wait a little, but let us not deny ourselves the pleasure of this honest and filled with humanity movie, two qualities which are sorely lacking to our current world.
To learn more:
– http://www.sigmafilms.com/films/starred-up/ (official website)