“But if Starred Up traverses well-worn territory, it never feels the least bit derivative. Each familiar prison movie trope it trots out—shower attacks, beating someone on the first day, an evil warden—is validated by the conviction of Jonathan Asser’s script…It’s all so suffocatingly immersive that every concession to cliché feels like a merciful gasp of fresh air.”
The A.V. Club‘s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky points out that the film’s immersive quality helps fill in the gaps without characters having to voice the arrival of a significant development:
“What the movie excels at, among other things, is putting the viewer into the prison life mindset, laying dramatic groundwork that allows the audience to intuit when an unspoken rule—like crossing the prison’s strict racial boundaries—has been broken.”
Eric’s opening journey through the prison is a prime example of non-verbally acquainting the audience, writes Brian Tallerico in his review for RogerEbert.com:
“Director David Mackenzie trusts his actor and O’Connell puts more performance up there on the screen in body language than most performers do with an entire script…we know Eric already through visual composition, physical performance, and the other tools that average films often ignore in favor of over-expository dialogue and false declarations of emotion. ‘Starred Up’ is not an average film.”
O’Connell is drawing raves (and rightly so), but Kristy Puchko at Cinema Blend points out that he is far from alone among the film’s stellar performances:
“Ben Mendelsohn brings alarming depth to his too-late-to-the-game dad, who wants to be a father to his son, but struggles with how. Fleshing out the support group are David Ajala and Anthony Welsh, who together create a terrifying and compelling dance of male aggression, pain and desire to change. This is a film spare in style, but smartly so. Mackenzie doesn’t garnish this tale of flawed fathers and wounded sons because it’s at its best served raw and wrathful.”
“Starred Up” is now available on VOD, iTunes and other on-demand platforms. It opens today in New York and expands to various cities throughout September.