film review: Starred Up (2014) – JDIFF 2014

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film review: Starred Up (2014) – JDIFF 2014

I had the good fortune of catching Starred at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival featuring a Q&A after with director David MacKenzie. While I can’t claim to be overly familiar with his work, he is the director of Perfect Sense, one of my top films of 2011, so I was looking forward to it.

MacKenzie was delightful, charming and eloquent but he said one thing that stood out to me. He described Starred Up as a “genre film”. Having just seen the film I was confused but then he said “prison film”. Make no mistake, Starred Up is no mere “prison film”. You can expect some of the tropes but it’s far more a family drama than a prison film, and it’s far more than “just a family drama” than that.

Central to its success are the performances at the core of the film. Ben Mendelson (Animal Kingdom, Killing Them Softly) and Jack O’Connell (Skins, This is England), father and son, are stand out. I didn’t see a better performance at the festival than Jack O’Connell and he did indeed take home the JDIFF Best Lead Actor award.

The central performances aren’t the only thing going for it though, they also manage to create depth around the peripheral characters. Now it is a prison drama, so there is of course a certain reliance on tropes, but they’re never just the stereotypes. Over the course of the film we find out more about even some of the smallest characters.

That said, this leads to the one criticism that I have. Rupert Friend. He’s the only thing in the film that feels out of place. Ok, the role he’s playing is one of someone who’s out of place… but he literally just disappears from the film at one point. It’s as though they had a whole strand of the plot for him that got left of the editing room floor.

In the scheme of things though, it’s a pretty small flaw. Starred Up is a taut drama, tense and thought-provoking and if you miss it in the cinema you should definitely catch on DVD or VOD.


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