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Laramie Movie Scope:
Starred Up

Stark, tough prison drama

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 5, 2014 -- This prison drama is a little different than most, since it is also a story about a relationship between a son, Eric Love (played by Jack O'Connell of “Unbroken”) and his father, Neville Love (Ben Mendelsohn of “The Dark Knight Rises”) who are both serving time in the same prison block. The screenplay was written by Jonathan Asser, based on his experiences as a prison psychiatrist. You can see a bit of Asser in the character Oliver Baumer (played by Rupert Friend of “The Young Victoria”) a prison psychiatrist in the movie.

Eric arrives in prison “starred up” (a young adult so violent he is transferred from juvenile facilities to a prison for adult violent offenders) and we see immediately that he is very familiar with prison life. The first thing he does is fashion a weapon out of razor blade and stash it inside a light fixture in his cell, looking just like he's done this before. He gets into a fight immediately and ends up in isolation. His father, Neville, being a very influential inmate, gets him out of isolation and back into the general population. He also gets Eric into a group therapy program run by Oliver Baumer and hopes this will get him out of prison. Neville is a lifer, with no chance of ever getting out of prison. He doesn't want his son to follow in his footsteps

Eric has a violent temper and is angry most of the time. He and his father have a very difficult relationship, which gets more difficult when Eric discovers his father has a romantic relationship with another man. When Eric discovers this, Neville shrugs and says, “It's prison.” You take love where you can find it. It appears Neville isn't really a homosexual, it just that this is the only kind of sex available in prison.

Eric doesn't like homosexuals and he doesn't like black people, either, but he changes his mind about black people after encounters them in group therapy. When Eric is targeted for death by another inmate, a black man from his therapy group comes to his rescue. The therapy sessions are very volatile, with fights breaking out from time to time. Oliver is barely able to keep the group under control.

Although Neville has a great deal of power in this prison wing, he is not the top dog, that title belongs to another prisoner, Spencer (Peter Ferdinando of “300: Rise of an Empire”) who rules with quiet, but deadly authority. When Eric incurs the wrath of Spencer, both he and his father are in deep trouble.

This is the toughest, grittiest prison drama I've seen since “Hunger” (2008). Since this is a British drama with some pretty strong accents, and there are a lot of prison slang terms used, I had some trouble following the dialog at times. I needed subtitles and a prison slang dictionary. The acting is superb, especially by Jack O'Connell and Ben Mendelsohn. O'Connell looks very different in this film, where he is buff and tough. He looks thin and emaciated as a prisoner of war in the new drama “Unbroken.”

This drama portrays prison life as brutal and corrupt. Asser's bitterness in having his group therapy program abruptly shut down by authorities at HMS Wandsworth, a Category B prison in south London in late 2010 comes through in the film. It shows corruption among some prison guards and their supervisors. This is a very well written and acted drama with an unforgettable climax. This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2014 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)