Starred Up is an impressive movie
Teenager Eric – brilliantly portrayed by rising star Jack O’Connell – has already been through youth detention after murdering a paedophile at the age of 10 (!). He ends up in prison in wing D, where coincidentally his father Neville Love (Ben Mendelsohn) is being detained too. Eric hasn’t seen him since he was five, but he happens to be one of the block’s leaders.
Eric may be young, but he’s not to be messed with. His first incident occurs not too long after his arrival, when he waits for the riot squad greased up in baby oil with table legs in his hands. ‘Sadly, it shows that he knows all too well what he is doing’, says PhD-student Mijntje ten Brummelaar, who researches adolescents with severe emotional and behavioural problems. ‘He has trust issues and a history of violence, so for him it seems like the only way.’
He wasn’t there for sweaty feat
‘Starred up’ means you’re a leader, according to one of the inmates. It is a euphemism used to describe the more serious offenders. ‘Well, Eric wasn’t there for sweaty feet, that’s for sure’, laughs PhD-student Danielle Zevulun.
The movie portrays the harsh life of a prison block – the dealing, the hierarchy and the ever-present danger. As a newbie, you have every reason to be anxious. Who should you trust? For Eric, there’s his father, who will be locked up for the rest of his life and whom he hardly knows, and there is social worker Oliver, who wants Eric to be part of his therapy group.
Well shot and credible
Oliver’s job strongly resembles what first-time scriptwriter Jonathan Asser used to do. Asser has worked in prisons for years and developed a method he calls ‘Shame/Violence Intervention’. It teaches inmates that there is another way besides fighting or fleeing. One of the actors, Basil Abdul-Latif, was actually part of Asser’s therapy group while he was in jail and it helped him get out.
The movie is well shot and the plot is credible, although sometimes a little coincidental. ‘I doubt whether kids would be put in the same prison as their father, especially when he is one of the leaders there’, says Ten Brummelaar. ‘There were also a few other things that wouldn’t normally happen, at least here in the Netherlands. But it does show how hard prison life is and how much people can struggle there.’
All in all, it’s a must-see for art house and action movie lovers alike. ‘The movie sheds light on the question of whether prison sentences should be about punishment or reintegration’, states Zevulun. The drama and action also make for a captivating story for those who just want to be entertained.