Film4, Sigma Films et al, GB
UK Release: 21st March 2014
Director David Mackenzie
Producer Gillian Berrie
Screenwriter Jonathan Asser
Cinematographer Michael McDonough
Cast Jack O’Connell, Rupert Friend, Ben Mendelsohn, Sam Spruell
It is raw, vicious and compelling, David Mackenzie has boiled up a British prison drama (our take on A Prophet) to please the tough skinned and humanist hunters, but also the subtle and complex. It is a sharp-toothed affair with the peak of human hostility on offer, yet Mackenzie brings his direction to, ultimately, what is a stirring and touching family drama, be it the cliché of a father-son relationship (interestingly, it is biological).
Mackenzie does not shy away from the jargon of high-risk convicts; the “c” word is used countless times alongside a myriad of crudeness and repulsive deeds. Whilst, this may sound off-putting for some, it is compulsory for the realist approach Mackenzie takes in order to effectively portray this nitty-gritty prison drama.
The film begins and our Starred Up teenager (19 years of age) Eric (played by the rising star Jack O’Connell) is stripped down and moved to his new cell. Immediately, we are immersed in the prison environment, which is to remain so claustrophobic for the entire rest of the movie. Mackenzie likes to linger, and his camera scrutinizes Eric, it penetrates his soul and then it unleashes the animal before our eyes. It soon becomes clear of Eric’s troubles and expertise, if you like, at his exertion of frolicking and literally pounding his opposition. What may sound excessive is in fact highly believable. The screenwriter, Jonathan Asser, draws on his experience as a therapist (similar to the character of Oliver played by Rupert Friend) to shape the immersive world. Yet, more importantly, the cast and the entire ensemble give superb performances that yearn for unfathomable insight from the audience. The question swiftly develops, do we sympathize with Eric, or is he simply a lost cause, as Governor Hayes (Sam Spruell) likes to believe?
The answer is that we wish to understand Eric’s behaviour and jaunt along with him; indeed his traumatic childhood is discussed and his inept father evident. Jack O’Connell’s performance is something of a revelation, composed one minute, explosive the next; his character turns all the emotions one might expect to see from a disfigured adolescent. Neville, the father, played by Ben Mendelsohn, is a distressed and colossally troubled character. I could watch Mendelsohn continually perform and find him evermore impressive and enthralling. The two meet each other as their match, Neville the assumed prison superior and Jack the ‘rising star’ battle it out through love, hate, jealousy and sheer animosity. The love broods through the fortification and intrinsic self-possession of a father for his child, this is present in a climax scene that exposes the shock and corruption of prison-life.
It is great to see Film4 head the funds of yet another successful British film where acting and filmmaking talents are so vivid. Don’t let this film slip under the radar, as it nearly did for myself. Eric is waiting for your support.
Watch the trailer below: