DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
Starred up’s premise may sound sappy and dime a dozen, but the actual execution is anything but that.
A young boy (19) gets ‘starred up’ from a prison for young offenders to a maximum security prison. His dad, who he doesn’t really know, happens to be incarcerated there as well and he soon falls under the care of a volunteering social worker who wants to help him manage his anger issues.
Reading that you’d never expect the places this film goes. The moment the social worker was introduced I started to get fidgety and apprehensive. The notion of reform, hope against hope, is something usually handled in the tackiest of fashions. Even though it is very clear from the start that this film is stripped from as much veneer as possible, it still did not sit well with me.
But as the plot started to progress, those misgivings were swept under the rug with the greatest of ease. This is a film which has a narrative that just sucks you in and doesn’t let go while delivering one blow after the next. Its drama is truly gripping, its depiction of life in prison, strengthened by very authentic dialogue, is palpable and feels authentic and, most importantly, it offers no solutions and pulls no punches.
The acting is superb, fuelled by an energy and an anger that fits the mood extremely well. The characters, while stereotypical, are fleshed out well enough for us to feel connected to them. This task falls mainly on the shoulders of Jack O’Connell who proves to be more than up for the task. The pacing is near perfect, never really slumming and always keeping you on your toes. It’s simply an extremely well made film.
A prison film that offers up about as much hope as the inmates have, i.e. barely any, has you look for the small things to find some closure. And they are there, mainly within the ever so slow and small changes that occur within O’Connell’s character. Even though there is some comfort there, Starred Up makes extra sure you get thrown back to reality with a superb, metaphorical final shot.
This film left me gutted, yet satisfied. I like having the wind knocked out of me by a film that doesn’t intend to hold back. Starred Up is, to me, one of the best prison films ever made.