A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Starred Up is a well-made British prison drama about a troubled teen who becomes old enough to enter the adult prison system (the title is a slang term for that transition). The movie is extremely hard and unflinchingly realistic, with matter-of-fact violence and full-frontal male nudity. Characters fight fairly frequently, and sometimes the fights come to blows, with blood shown. In one fight, a character bites down on a man's crotch and stays there until the fight is over. Language is extremely strong and constant, including multiple uses of "f--k" and "c--t." One prisoner retrieves a cell phone from his rear end (nothing graphic shown on screen), and the main character must have his own rear end inspected for contraband before entering the prison. Prisoners are shown smoking cigarettes, and some clandestine drug dealing appears to be happening, but it's not a major plot point.
What's the story?
Stone-faced, hair-trigger teenager Eric Love (Jack O'Connell) is no stranger to prison, but now he's old enough to be transferred from youth prison to the real deal, or "starred up," as it's known in prison slang. Guarded and coiled and already with extensive prison experience under his belt, it's not long before Eric's explosive nature gets him in trouble. But a prison therapist, Oliver (Rupert Friend), recommends that Eric join his group sessions to work on his temper. It's not an easy process, but Eric also gets a helping hand from long-timer Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who has a special relationship with the troubled youth.
Is it any good?
English director David Mackenzie (Young Adam, Spread) has never made films that were easy to watch or easy to like, but with STARRED UP, he seems to have found some kind of balance at last. As it begins, with its hard, unflinching look at a prisoner transferred to an adult institution, it might recall Steve McQueen's very tough Hunger (2008), but though Starred Up always retains its edge, it finds a sympathetic heart as well.
Certainly it could easily have turned into a goopy, Hollywood-lite movie about redemption, but vivid details and the excellent, wounded performances help anchor things in something closer to truth. O'Connell gives a star-making performance, and Friend plays the therapist with a certain resigned gravity. Mackenzie's camera could easily have slipped into documentary-like shaky-cam, but it's as reserved and unfazed as the concrete walls all around it. This is a powerful film that's also surprisingly watchable.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Starred Up's violence and fighting. How does the movie present these things? How do they make you feel? How does their impact compare to that of less-realistic movie violence?
Is the main character likable? Is he a sympathetic character? Why or why not? How does he show his humanity?
Does the prison therapist appear to be doing some good for his patients?
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