jack-oconnell-starred-up1

Tribeca Film

Yes, I suppose you could watch the just-released trailer for Unbroken and be all inspired by the part-Olympic hero, part-WWII hero Louis Zamperini, played by Jack O’Connell. But why would you, when you could see O’Connell melt a razor blade into the backside of a toothbrush and swing it at an authority figure?

I vote “prison shanking” every time.

This extreme opposite of Unbroken‘s “be inspired until the inspiration pours from every orifice” approach comes from the new prison drama Starred Up, from director David Mackenzie. Well, new-ish — the film released in its native United Kingdom back in March, but it’ll be getting a limited release here this August. So us American folk get a Starred Up trailer all our own.

Here, O’Connell plays Eric Love, who decided early on that his name would be an ironic one, and thus spent most of his youth getting in and out of prison. In fact, he’s so skilled at getting himself locked away that the authorities have decided to transfer him early, from the juvenile facilities to the adult ones, even though he’s just a teen (which is what the phrase “starred up” refers to).

And that’s where he’ll meet two very important people. One is a prison psychologist, played by Rupert Friend, who really wants Eric to turn his life around. The other is Eric’s father, played by Ben Mendelsohn, who happens to be a con himself in the very same prison. The three of them then proceed to play tug-of-war with Eric’s future. http://youtu.be/pSHbRA92zlU

The story is based off the real experiences of screenwriter Jonathan Asser, who was a prison therapist himself, more or less the real version of Friend’s character. And “realism” is the word of the day for Starred Up, because the film is angling to be a totally true-to-life prison tale. Think A Prophet, rather than Ernest Goes to Jail (although in Ernest‘s defense, everyone knows that being repeatedly electrocuted will give you super powers).

That means sex, constant violence, undue psychological trauma and British accents so thick you’d need multiple chainsaws to hack through them. More than one review claims the film is like a foreign language to American audiences, and while I’m not really picking up on that in the trailer (perhaps the editors cherry-picked the few lines not mangled by prison slang), there are definitely a few moments that require a few re-listens.

For example, I still have no idea what Mendelsohn’s first line in the trailer is. Maybe, “I’m gonna tell you something, alright? This is no young upenders turnout.” But as far as I can tell, an “upender” is a piece of factory equipment that rotates steel coils. I’m really at a loss here.

Starred Up looks like a stellar addition to the prison genre, so if you can find a translator with a decent hourly rate, go ahead and check it out when it opens in New York City on August 29th.


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