Kev’s review published on Letterboxd:
This Jack O'Connell kid is something else, huh? I think we're looking at a bonafide legend in the making.
Starred Up is a gritty, uncompromisingly brutal prison drama. Eric Love (O'Connell) is a young and violent offender who has just been transferred from a juvenile facility to an adult prison, thus "starred up". He is a bundle of rage, ready to explode at any moment. Doesn't help that his father (played brilliantly by Ben Mendelsohn) happens to be the in the same damn prison. I mean, that in itself is a recipe for disaster. The film could have just focused on that one particular plot, but there's actually quite a few layers going on here.
This film is a raging machine. The violence is mean, but never over-the-top. See, that's the thing about this movie. It feels incredibly authentic. This is of course due to David Mackenzie's great direction. It's filmed with such a sense of realism that you really feel the atmosphere and brutality of this fucked-up place. Never once did I question the realism. The pacing is fucking perfect, it knows when to slow it down a bit, right before throwing something crazy at the audience. It is never boring, as we're constantly engaged in the plot. I mean, you've got father-son relationships, inmate feuds, corrupt guards, a counselor looking to reform Eric, and some other good stuff thrown in to. It all works incredibly well, and never feels underdeveloped or overcrowded. And the ending, man oh man. The final moments of this film are emotionally effective, and extremely tense.
The performances are great, especially O'Connell and Mendolsohn. Their dynamic is engaging as hell to watch, as we their not-so-good relationship fluctuate over the course of the film. Any scene where those two are in the same room is fucking magnetic. It's electrifying cinema. Rupert Friend is great as well as the counselor, who just wants to help Eric and is getting fed up with all the bureaucratic horseshit in the prison. But it all comes back to Jack O'Connell, who manages to make you empathize with this violent kid, who you should despise. You can see the boiling anger plain on his face, but you can also see the sadness underneath.
I mean, I can't praise the film enough. Starred Up is a tour-de-force, and one of my favorite films all year.