From director David Mackenzie (‘Young Adam’ 03, ‘Perfect Sense’ 11) and very sensibly filmed in chronological order, this at least attempts to show the progression within prison of an extremely violent character, from the young, hyper aggressive newcomer on the wing with experience of prison tactics, to the member of an inmate ‘anger management’ group, something that makes him feel part of something and we can see the inklings of potential reform appear.
There is the distinct feel of something made for the movies here, with the violence and goings on accentuated for that purpose, and it is debatable how much of a character progression we actually see, indeed it is very difficult to get behind the protagonist at all in the beginning and unusually for a prison film we actually want to see the guards take him round the back and give him a good kicking. We eventually learn that our main character, Eric (Jack O’connell), has a dark past of abuse and that his own father, played by Ben Mendelsohn, is imprisoned on the same wing with him, and utlimately although it is well put together and acted, it never really completely escapes from that feeling of ‘is this just a little too much to get behind or really believe’.
The term ‘starred up’, we are told, refers to someone who has been marked as an up and coming leader, and in terms of a remorseless pathological killer it certainly fits Eric, though not exactly new territory for O’connell if you have seen the very memorable films ‘Eden Lake’ (08) and ‘Tower Block’ (12). Arguably a better and just as gritty, but not as well publicised, recent prison film is ‘Offender’ (12).