directed by David Mackenzie
David Mackenzie will (for me, that is) forever be known as the match that ignited the stick of Jack O’Connell TNT, and Starred Up is, from a debut perspective, on par with Ryan Gosling’s criminally under seen performance in The Believer. Prison movies have a long history, and such modern classics as A Prophet or Hunger have elevated the genre in beautiful, grim, affecting ways. With Starred Up, Mackenzie has taken the family dynamic of prison life and added the twist of having a literal family dynamic play out in the form of a father and son struggle. O’Connell is Eric Love, a teenage offender whose violent behavior in juvie has gotten him bumped, or starred up, into full grown prison. Love is no stranger to the system, and the opening sequence plays out like a perfectly tuned procedural in which every person (Love included) know their roles. In a place where actions, looks, and subtlety mean so much, Mackenzie and O’Connell play each scene with minimalist perfection. That is, unless the scene calls for maximalism, in which case O’Connell goes supernova in all the right ways, evoking the wildness of a caged thing with such emotive force that I felt like cowering in my own living room. Ben Mendhelsohn is one of the most reliably spectacular actors of his generation, and his Neville Love is an understated coil of unknowable complexity that hints at so much more beneath the surface. Starred Up is a stellar gut punch that should have been on all sort of “Best of 2014" lists. Go see it.