Tag Archives: Jack O’Connell


'71 film posterSynopsis

Scripted by Gary Burke and directed by Yann Demange.  It’s about Gary (Jack O’Connell ) who is a Parachute Regiment lad from Derby who has been sent to Belfast in 1971.  He and his fellow soldiers are to assist the Royal Ulster Constabulary in a house to house search off the Falls Road.  In the confrontation with Catholics, he and his comrades are separated from their unit.  One is killed and Gary flees his tormentors.  He is sheltered by Eamon (Richard Dorner) in the Divis flats.  The IRA want to kill Gary and the British security agents and army want to save him…


Starring Jack O’Connell who was in the equally brutal Starred Up, he brings the same mixture of violence and vulnerability to the part.  He is confused and uneducated so is easily patronized and brutalized by the army who risk his life.  “Rich cunts commanding thick cunts to kill poor cunts” in the words of Eamon the doctor, who rescues him. This is the UK in 1971 but it looks primeval and savage.  The sodium lamps impart painterly reds and golds to the slums and pubs.  The derelict street scenes at night are like a stone age encampment of brutalist cement, eerily signposted with lamp posts like sentinels over a killing ground.  In the daytime confrontation women bang dustbin lids on the pavement, an IRA boy walks past a street statue of the Virgin Mary, and this all exacerbates the fighting’s tribally totemic power.  Early in the film, the perimeter between Catholic and Protestant seems clear enough but when the violence starts, for about twenty minutes, the film pumps with real time sweat and adrenalin as Gary is running for his life.  He narrowly avoids death when a pub explodes and then there’s the same deafened exhaustion and pain we saw in The Piano Player.  The boundary between friend and enemy mingles like the corrupting cold, and the rain before the enshadowed complications of double and secret agents, as if there should be gratified relief when an enemy is easily identifiable.  These secret agents, Captain Browning (Sean Harris), Haggerty (Martin McCann), and Sean (Barry Keoghan) are perfect retro seventies specimens:  rat-like hair, weasely moustaches, and ferrety gaunt faces that sneak through the concrete wilderness like the moral outcasts they assuredly are.  By comparison Lt. Armitage (Sam Reid) is merely posh, and eventually decent, and clearly on Gary’s side.   Superb.

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Posted by on November 5, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Starred Up

Starred Up film posterSynopsis

About a young offender Eric (Jack O’Connell)  who is “starred up” (transferred prematurely to an adult jail).  Written by Jonathan Asser who worked as a psychotherapist in prison.  Eric’s father, Nev (Ben Mendlesohn) is in the same prison. Nev clumsily mentors his son and gets him to join the psychotherapist’s sessions.  This official, Oliver, is played by Rupert Friend.  Eric battles with prison guards, the warden, and his fellow prisoners but is helped by his fellow psychotherapy session prisoners. Nev and Eric are brutally treated by the prison warden and they must be separated…


This is violent, unrelentingly brutal, and macho.  It wears its prison cliches fairly lightly but they are prevalent: the locked in entrance of the new prisoner, the prisoner’s alpha heirarchy, macho posturing concealing humane intelligence, the well meaning psychotherapist playing the pained priest figure, the brutally misunderstood central character who can only lash out, the corrupt and vicious warden, the hard-eyed view of caged-in boredom and spartan conditions, harrowing face to face confrontations, and revelations of emotional damage.  All that was lacking was the emotional prison visit.  This is not Porridge (a 1970’s British comedy about prison life, Porridge meaning prison), more like black bile.  Starred Up shows what we all really know, that prison is too often the cure that’s worse than the sickness.  For sheer adrenalin scares, it’s superior to Papillon, Shawshank Redemption and Eastwood’s Alcatraz, watching it feels like being on an ICU (intensive care unit) ward with no back up.  It’s a cream painted, iron-hinged, echo chamber of rage and frustration. The father and his son must suffer their share of being locked up in the same place and this exacerbates the violence resulting from family damage.  Officialdom here, as in most prison movies, is hard faced, pompous and inured to a daily routine of self serving dehumanizing.  Dialogue with prisoners is the ritual of enforced deference, its terms relentlessly enforced.  Rupert Friend plays the agonized, humane psychotherapist.  This is a thankless role, a gift to easy stereotyping.  We’ve often seen the heroic decent guy trying to be one of the ‘kids’, yearning for peer acceptance amongst the amorally violent.  Such would-be’s adopt a fake argot which is excruciatingly ingratiating as it merely emphasises the alienation between the professional and the criminal (like priests who try to be tougher than the tough guys ).  Friend as Oliver does a reasonable job with this thankless task, like Sidney Poitier and Glenn Ford in those ‘Blackboard Jungle’ teacher versus deliquents movies.  The austere harshness of the metalscape around them only accentuate the tensions.  In spite of these prison movie familiarities, this is still a superbly gripping film.

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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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