Starred Up (2014)



Critic Consensus: Smart, hard-hitting, and queasily realistic, Starred Up is an instant classic of U.K. prison cinema.

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19-year-old Eric (Jack O'Connell, star of the upcoming UNBROKEN), arrogant and ultra-violent, is prematurely transferred to the same adult prison facility as his estranged father (Ben Mendelsohn, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES). As his explosive temper quickly finds him enemies in both prison authorities and fellow inmates - and his already volatile relationship with his father is pushed past breaking point - Eric is approached by a volunteer psychotherapist (Rupert Friend, "Homeland"), who runs an anger management group for prisoners. Torn between gang politics, prison corruption, and a glimmer of something better, Eric finds himself in a fight for his own life, unsure if his own father is there to protect him or join in punishing him. Written by prison system therapist Jonathan Asser, STARRED UP is a merciless, uncompromising portrayal of a dehumanizing life behind bars, and the most accomplished film of David Mackenzie's career; as father and son, Mendelsohn and O'Connell give extraordinary performances, charting a path that resembles Greek tragedy. (c) Tribeca Films
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Ben Mendelsohn
as Neville
Rupert Friend
as Oliver
Sam Spruell
as Governor Hayes
David Ajala
as Tyrone
Frederick Schmidt
as Officer Gentry
Edna Caskey
as Officer Evans
Darren Hart
as MacDonald
Duncan Airlie James
as Officer White
Anthony Welsh
as Hassan
Jerome Bailey
as Reames
Basil Abdul
as Latif-Mubarak
Matt Faris
as Officer Hal
Aisha Walters
as Nurse Bankford
David Avery
as Ashley
Tommy McDonnell
as Officer Self
James Doran (II)
as Officer Smith
Ian Beattie
as Officer Johnson
C.C. Smiff
as Officer Corsair
Sian Breckin
as Governor Cardew
Mark Asante
as Denton
Jonathan Asser
as Officer Edwards
Patrick Rocks
as Officer Henry
Ryan McKenna
as O'Sullivan
Anthony Adjekum
as Officer Wilson
Amma Boateng
as Officer Stokes
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News & Interviews for Starred Up

Critic Reviews for Starred Up

All Critics (105) | Top Critics (23)

Mackenzie is seeking to understand how all this explosive male energy can co-exist under such brutal conditions, and the answer is with great difficulty.

Full Review… | September 22, 2016
The Atlantic
Top Critic

Director David Mackenzie has empathy for the characters, but also knows how to ratchet up the tension and make the scene of mayhem pack a wallop.

Full Review… | September 25, 2014
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

[An] unusually cohesive and exciting prison drama ...

Full Review… | September 21, 2014
New Yorker
Top Critic

"Starred Up" manages to be sympathetic, not only because of O'Connell's galvanizing turn, but also Asser and director David Mackenzie's unwavering commitment to portraying his character with as much compassion as brutal honesty.

Full Review… | September 18, 2014
Washington Post
Top Critic

It's almost as difficult to sit through "Starred Up" as it is satisfying to watch it.

Full Review… | September 11, 2014
Arizona Republic
Top Critic

The British prison movie Starred Up has the excitement of a nonstop psychological cage fight, but its goal is enlightenment, not terror or cheap thrills.

Full Review… | September 5, 2014
Orange County Register
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Starred Up

Written by an actual therapist following his own experiences, this gripping drama offers an extremely realistic view of prison that makes us feel like watching a documentary, and it is brutal and touching when it needs to be, anchored by superb performances (O'Connell is a revelation).

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

Starred Up is extremely solid. The validity of Jonathan Asser's screenplay comes through in every scene. Not just in handling the atmosphere with sincerity, but for extracting genuine emotion. Ben Mendelsohn and Jack O'Connell are extraordinarily good. Their interaction is infused with subtlety and nuance. As his estranged father, Nev tries to give his son some life lessons to help him from becoming a permanent resident there. It's a real father-son relationship as opposed to a metaphorical one. I haven't seen that before. They act the roles to perfection. I suggest a primer on British prison slang prior to watching, however, starting with that title. Starred up refers to young offenders whose conduct is so violent that they're prematurely transferred from a juvenile institution to an adult one. Gwap is money, prison officers are kangas, and to mug off is to show disrespect. All of this makes the dialogue a little inscrutable, but I wouldn't have it any other way. The authenticity is appreciated and it adds to what makes Starred Up the credible drama that it is.

Mark Hobin
Mark Hobin

Super Reviewer


"Starred Up" starts with 19-year old Eric Love(Jack O'Connell) being assigned to a new prison. He soon gets settled in, as he makes a shiv and hides it in a light fixture. That comes in handy when Eric mistakes a fellow prisoner's gesture of kindness for a possible assault. After which, things go from bad to insanely worse after Eric attempts to bring him to the infirmary. Saving him from a long, long time in solitary is Oliver Baumer(Rupert Friend), a, counselor, who gets him assigned to his group therapy session which is very closely obvserved by Neville(Ben Mendelsohn), an older prisoner. "Starred Up" works best when it is subversive, subtly turning the narrative on its head. That starts through a measure of Kubrickian austerity with a question about whether some people like Eric are truly incorrigible and should just be dropped in a deep, dark hole and forgotten about. But over time, the circular narrative gradually and carefully hands out information that evolves the situation and brings more critical attention to the guards who like the chief criminals seek order in the prison, even with the constant potential of brutal violence. As an example of how not exactly dumb he is, Eric gives a speech highlighting this long before it becomes an issue, just as masculinity is also examined underneath a magnifying lens here. But the movie's climax undermines some of the realism when it strains credibility to the breaking point.

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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