Starred Up (18)

Directed by David MacKenzie
Picturehouse, Liverpool
21st March - 3rd April 2014

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

Filmed in Belfast's disused Crumlin Road jail, cinematographer Michael McDonough ('Winter's Bone') makes full use of its delapidated condition with some stunning shots, making one genuinely sense the caged in existence of its inhabitants and their feeling of alienation and estrangement from the outside world.

In steps youngster Eric Love (played impressively by Jack O'Connell) into this forbidding environment, having been transferred from a young offenders institute due to his notorious behaviour.

But despite being surrounded by hardened criminals, some of whom have been incarcerated there for many years, including his dad Neville (Ben Mendelsohn - who was exceptional as a type of lowlife in 'Animal Kingdom') and is equally so in this film, he has no fears about confronting them, physically or verbally.

But his worst enemies are not his fellow prisoners but the staff who manage the jail. Their early impression of Eric is not helped when he grips his teeth around the testicles of a prison officer. Ouch!

The script is authentic, with a capital A, given that it is written by Jonathan Asser, who worked as a group therapist with prisoners at HMP Wandsworth, capturing the tedium and nihilism they daily endure of living in such an ultra macho pressure cooker of a building.

Eric begins to slowly position himself in the prisoner pecking order but his dad is a constant problem he has to deal with, exacerbated by his overbearing presence whenever he is talking to him (or more accurately talking down to him).

The closing stages border on the melodramatic but not to such an extent to diminish the suffocating power of this low budget but high octane film.

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