Tag Archives: screen writer Jonathan Asser

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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