Starred Up is a brutal look into the life of Eric, played by an excellent Jack O'Connell from television's Skins, a 19-year-old who has been transferred from a juvenile detention centre to prison.
Based on ex-prison therapist Jonathan Asser's 12-year stint of working in an actual prison (he also wrote the script), Starred Up shows how hard it is for an inmate who is young to be in an adult prison, even having been in and out of trouble and detention centers for most of his life.
At the beginning, Eric is marched into the prison which will become his home and taken to the induction room, strip searched, then asked to squat down so that the prison guards can check up his rear end, which would be quite intimidating for anyone. But not for Eric, who he seems to take it all in stride, just another day of being locked up. It does help a bit that his father is also locked up in the same prison, though they never actually saw eye to eye on account of his father never being there for him when he was growing up.
At only 19-years-old, Eric adapts easily to his new environment, as any career criminal would. He won't, and doesn't, take any shit from anyone, and he is the first to resort to violence when threatened by other inmates. Meanwhile, it is suggested by prison officials that Eric join a support group with fellow inmates. At first he resists, violently, even biting one of the guard's lower regions. Then, over time, he goes to the therapy sessions on his own, and soon opens up to his fellow prisoners and to the therapist (played Rupert Friend), who takes an interest in Eric and wants to help rehabilitate him. But the prison Warden has other plans and dismisses the therapist, leaving Eric to miss the meetings he started to look forward to, and which were helping him to open up about his troubled life. Soon enough, Eric cascades back into a dark place, which includes violence toward anyone who even gives him a dirty look.
At 105 minutes long, Starred Up is not an easy film to sit through. The stabbings and cuttings that Eric, as well as the other inmates, inflict on each other is extremely realistic and very bloody. The use of razor blades is common, and one attempted hanging in the film is all too real. But it is O'Connell's performance in this film that will make you sit up and take notice. In a role that required a lot of violence (and full frontal nudity), O'Connell uses his youthful looks and muscular physique to portray a young inmate who can intimidate the fellow prisoners. His is a very edgy, emotional and at times an unpredictable performance. There are quite a few good scenes in the film between Eric and his father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), and one in particular when Eric realizes that his father is in a homosexual relationship with his cell mate.
Eric, all grown up is now a man who can take care of himself. He has been Starred Up, a term which means that a juvenile inmate is moved to an adult jail. And O'Connell is one actor to look out for.