Alex Austein’s review published on Letterboxd:
It's not BRONSON or HUNGER, but STARRED UP is a highly empathetic, visceral look into the humanity of the UK prison system in its own right. Though it isn't a film with a grand statement in what it chooses to show, often focusing on the mundanity of cell-life, STARRED UP isn't without comment on the penal code. Never does it attempt to justify these characters' wrongdoing or to absolve them of their ostensible crimes, instead seeking to show all of their aggression and frustration and regret as fundamental aspects of their social composition. The prison is shown decked out with detailed strata; implicit rules understood by lifers and guards, foreign to Jack O'Connell's Eric Love who stomps on everything that gets too close to him.
In a film that doesn't attempt to hide its lack of revelatory originality, O'Connell is that major beacon of significance. His whole performance exudes power, fearsome and intimidating with the impulsiveness and fury of youth. The relationship between Eric Love and his father, a man who's been locked up most of his life, and is on track to never leave, is the central and most impressive part of STARRED UP. So much pathos, tension, genuine love and hate are culled from the clashing of these two disenfranchised men, with Ben Mendolsohn going to extreme lengths just to communicate with his dangerous son. Though he's been "starred up", the film precipitates the idea that Eric Love's future isn't totally shot; a therapist, volunteering in his free time just to help reform people like Love is played by Rupert Friend and occupies most of the slower scenes here. These are understandably incorporated sequences, but the gravitas of the constant calamity in the cells was never quite captured in the intimate and opportunistic therapy sessions.
This is a strong movie, rife with the clangor and coldness of metal gratings, and oppressively simplistic containment rooms. STARRED UP has both a clinical quality and a profound energy that establishes it as something special, even if it doesn't break new ground. There are severe, disastrous moments scattered throughout its duration that are gut-wrenching in execution. Ultimately though, the sweeping sense that everyone in this prison is a human worthy of caring about and having sympathy for is what makes STARRED UP a great film.