Terése Flynn’s review published on Letterboxd:
I happen to live with a guy that've been a prison officer for ten years now. Or, in Sweden we call them "Kriminalvårdare", that translates to "Criminal keeper", kind of. Sending a message that it's more about the care and rehabilitation of the inmates than just keeping them "starred up". He's also in the prison task force, and is at the moment retraining to become a program leader for the inmates (much like Oliver in this movie).
Anyhow, we watched this together today and for the first hour I kind of got on his nerves. Asking him questions about if what we saw was the same at the prison he works at. He seldom talks about work, you see, so I saw it has my chance to get even more insight:
Me: Do you look up their butts like that?
Him: No, we're not allowed to do that
Me: Are they really allowed to keep a lighter?
Him: No, and we would have visitation tape on that lamp.
Me: Is that the way you do it?
Him: No, he's just in the way with that shield at the moment.
Me: Are they allowed to have running water on their room?
Me: Why are the officer taking him across the prison alone? Should they not be at least two of them all the time?
Him: Yes, that's right. It's standard safety precaution.
Me: Don't you have visitations of the cells every morning at least (asking because the lack of officers checking their rooms)
Him: Yes, that's right.
My curiosity didn't stop me from engaging in the movie though, on the contrary. I've just always been fascinated with prisons. Or rather by the fact that we detain other human beings in these days of age. What also interests me is what makes people like Eric become the way they are. And in Starred Up you don't need a vivid imagination to understand him, to feel that you know him. Know his past. This doesn't make Eric less of a complex human being, but it do make him more likable and easier to connect with. Which is also maybe this movie's biggest achievement. To throw in a guy as our main character that obviously is in prison for a good reason (even though it wont do anyone any good), not giving us a background story or having him feel remorseful, is a brave move.
Even though I've written that Eric's character is a complex one, this movie sure is guilty of simplifying and offers a great deal of cliches. And in the end this isn't that much better than an episode of OZ. But being a super fan of that series, I sure didn't mind all that in the case of Starred Up. Add to this that the acting perfomances is more than great, and that the movie succeeds in feeling both intense and claustrophobic without spectacular action and music to set the tone.
Ps: I know for a fact that my boyfriend is as kind as a prison officer can be. We use to get a lot of happy hellos from former inmates when we're out grocery shopping. No hanging of inmates in solitary, in other words (knock on wood)