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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The movie shows two ways of looking at an angry, lost youth. Some of the authorities see the need to treat him without mercy and with strong discipline. But a therapist feels that sympathy and listening could help. In this movie, nothing is that simple, and the problem isn't solved, but it appears that at least the main character has more of a chance than he once did. Also, a father learns to make a sacrifice for his teen son.
Positive Role Models
The main character isn't a role model, nor are any of the prisoners, but the prison therapist seems to be trying to do some good in the world. Whether he succeeds is another question.
Violence & Scariness
The main character has raging outbursts of uncontrolled violence. In one scene, he beats a man unconscious, with blood shown. Cops in riot gear go after him, and he proceeds to fight them as well. In another scene, several guards gang up on him, and he stops the fight by biting a man's crotch and staying there until the others back away. The main character tells a story about how he killed a "pedo" (pedophile). The main character creates a weapon from a toothbrush and a razor and attempts to kill a man with it. Prisoners try to hang the main character in his cell. Various amounts of blood are shown throughout.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
The main character is shown full-frontally naked on more than one occasion, though it's generally not sexual in nature. When he first arrives in prison, he's asked to strip, and an officer must inspect his bottom for smuggled items. (This happens off screen.) In another scene, he gets into a fight while naked in the shower. A prisoner removes a cell phone from his anus (he does this while sitting on a toilet, and the act is mostly out of view). A secondary character kisses his cellmate. Some strong sexual innuendo during one of the therapy sessions.
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"F--k" and "f--king" are used almost constantly. "C--t" is also used very frequently. "S--t" is used a few times, and "ass" and "a--hole" are used.
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Products & Purchases
One prisoner is shown wearing an Adidas running jacket.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Some of the prisoners smoke cigarettes. Some also appear to be dealing drugs, but this is shown in an offhand, background way.
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.