Starred Up reveals Jack O’Connell
by Domenico La Porta
- The latest film by British director David Mackenzie bursts with brutal charisma that transcends the prison film genre
David Mackenzie is not yet the star he will probably soon become. It is tempting to see in Starred Up [+see also:
interview: David Mackenzie
film profile]’s title the sign of a much-deserved rise in the fame of the director of Young Adam (2003). Revealed in Toronto, this British production was chosen by Frédéric Boyer to take part in the 5th edition of the European Film Festival des Arcs.
Eric (Jack O’Connell), a young delinquent, arrives in prison. He is provocative, organized and extremely violent. Rapidly, his actions disrupt the penitentiary’s mafia order and Nev (Ben Mendelsohn), his father who didn’t see him grow up, is in charge of handling him.
Although Starred Up is well set in a genre (the prison film), which comes with a series of stereotypes (antagonism between inmates, power struggles, vicious guards, cafeteria scenes, solitary confinement, etc), it bares no equal when it comes to showing the spectator the realistic hell of British prisons. It was actually filmed in a real prison in Belfast, which was only slightly altered to accommodate the film’s crew. A fiction based on the personal experience of its screenwriter, Jonathan Asser, who worked as a therapist with inmates, the film doesn’t only describe a claustrophobic location and a hierarchy of colourful characters. Two of them have a moving father/son relationship in spite of the violent and anti-social nature of the parties. First of all there is the film’s revelation: Jack O’Connell who plays the son, Eric. O’Connell was made famous on television with the series Skins, but his incursion onto the big screen is as earth-shattering as that of Tom Hardy in Bronson [+see also:
film profile]. The actor plays this outclassed (starred up) minor who is brutal, fragile and unpredictable. He emanates a charisma that can only open up the doors of cinema for him, and this film will have pushed him forward.
Starred Up is abysmally violent in a manner that sometimes borders on genius in the way it orchestrates its explosion. In fact, the opening to the first act is particularly tense and audacious (you will think about it as you brush your teeth). The directing is like a pressure cooker accumulating pressure on several occasions after bursts that make the narrative go forward. Slowly, behind the façade of tough guys fighting it off with razor blades, tables and incomprehensible slang insults, there are thankfully a small number of inmates who handle their violence in group therapy sessions. The success of the film is particularly linked to this similar management by the director who is able to stay on track with a moving story, nearly animalistic, of taming towards redemption.
(Translated from French)