British prison drama 'Starred Up' gets brutal

  • Article by: ROB NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 30, 2014 - 2:00 PM

British prison drama “Starred Up” has a lockdown on intensity.


Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn in “Starred Up.”

If holding the viewer captive is the obvious goal of any good prison drama, the British jailhouse shocker “Starred Up” puts one in solitary confinement for two hours, making us feel its feral protagonist’s desire to scratch, stab or bite his keepers — or die trying.

With a stark intensity not realized since director Steve McQueen starved a locked-down Michael Fassbender in “Hunger,” this fully immersive movie — now on VOD via iTunes and Amazon Instant Video — follows Eric (Jack O’Connell), a raging 19-year-old who, because of his bodily threat to all around him, has been “starred up” from juvenile detention to the big house.

The possibility that this creatively defiant young man has contrived to get himself “promoted,” as it were, emerges once he reunites with his likewise jailed dad (Ben Mendelsohn) after a dozen years. Still, in keeping with the movie’s realistically brutal tone, the relationship between father and son hardly appears to be a purely loving one.

Director David Mackenzie couldn’t possibly have made a movie more temperamentally different from “Spread,” his vastly underrated comedy from 2009 with Ashton Kutcher as a free-floating L.A. hustler to rival Warren Beatty in “Shampoo.” Yet each of these films gets uncomfortably close to a damaged, desperate man-child whose every move seems a survival tactic.

With its thickly accented working-class British dialogue and explosions of violence physical and psychological, “Starred Up” is certainly not for everyone. Lovers of intense cinema, however, will find it a very worthy environment in which to do time.

Also new on VOD

The reported $3.8 million grossed by Bong Joon-ho’s icy thriller “Snowpiercer” on VOD, while the film was still in theaters, has evidently helped augur a new era in which select off-Hollywood fare appears more or less simultaneously on screens big and small. Indeed, at the serious risk of irritating my friendly acquaintances in exhibition (sorry, guys), I’ll note this week that no fewer than five theatrical indies are available for streaming on demand now or soon via Amazon and iTunes.

A surefire conversation (or argument) starter for couples, the Sundance hit “The One I Love,” starring Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass as verbose yuppies in marital crisis and under the influence, starts Friday at St. Anthony Main and is streamable now. Another key Sundance attraction that’s on VOD, the documentary “Dinosaur 13,” which just ended its run at St. Anthony Main, digs into the true story of intrepid paleontologists scurrying to claim the discovery of a T. Rex fossil.

The local folks at Landmark Theatres might wish that distributors had waited to stream “The Trip to Italy” and “The Two Faces of January,” both on VOD now. The former, reuniting “The Trip” stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for another comic adventure, opened Friday at the Uptown Theatre, while the latter, an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith mystery starring Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst, is due Oct. 10 at Edina Cinema.

Sound Unseen, though, has the scoop on “God Help the Girl.” That coming-of-age drama, scored by Belle & Sebastian and directed by the Scottish band’s Stuart Murdoch, doesn’t appear on VOD until the day after Sound Unseen’s premiere of the film Thursday night at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.

Send questions or comments to Rob Nelson at


of past columns at


    1 “Divergent”

    2 “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

    3 “The Other Woman”

    4 “Noah”

    5 “Need for Speed”

    6 “God’s Not Dead”

    7 “Heaven Is for Real”

    8 “Transcendence”

    9 “The Lego Movie”

    10 “Rio 2”

    Source: Rentrak Corp. (Aug. 4-10)

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