Film | Starred Up – Jack O'Connell is a rising star

Image: Sigma Films, Film 4

In my opinion, the vision of Film4 films and the situations they portray are like an actor’s version of a live musical performance: risky, personal, and if done well make for a flowing natural performance, as they throw themselves into the unknown of up close and personal camera work and storytelling that could make or break their career.

Known for his roles in Skins and This is England, Jack O’Connell steps up to the challenge once again here, this time in his portrayal of troubled young offender Eric. Eric is ‘starred up’, or moved early from a junior detention centre to an adult one for being too violent. On arrival he discovers that he has been placed in the same facility as his convict father, and the two struggle with their own relationship amidst the violence of entrenched prisoner factions. I was a little unsure of this film working as a whole, but it didn’t take long before I was convinced. O’Connell gives a show-stopping performance that guides you through a violence-fuelled prison rollercoaster of emotions and second chances.

The film takes a somewhat direct route to what seems like it will turn out to be feel-good story, but out of the blue takes a few twists and turns which change the mood. Favouring some in-depth camera angles and shots, it leaves you feeling agitated and annoyed at the situation and story in front of you. This is, however, a good thing, it builds up the frustration of both sides of the story, viewed by the audience from a distance. But no matter how many glimpses it provides of possible resolution, you are reminded of the powerless role of the viewer; you are a mere spectator of the unfolding situation.

How much of this film is true to prison life? I‘m not sure. Compared to other prison based films, it did feel a little stereotypical to the genre, but this is perhaps only due to what the prison environment calls to mind, which the performances and story enhance to make so much more of.

This is a film I had no interest in seeing originally, the little I knew beforehand didn’t interest me, but going in knowing very little added even more shock to my love of this film. It is an intelligent yet gritty film that Jack O’Connell carriers from start to finish, and gives proof that he is truly a British rising star whose acting career has only really just began.

Paisley Boyd

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