Bendik Kaalaas’s review published on Letterboxd:
Damn, this was good! Starred Up is quite easily one of the best prison dramas I've seen. It's relentless, gritty, realistic and incredibly hard-hitting, telling a story about a young criminal, Eric Love, who has recently been transferred to a new prison, the prison where his father is currently sitting.
The story is extremely engaging, with great dialogue and an interesting dynamic between the son and his father, and the other prisoners in general. It really shows that the film's writer spent time working with some of Britain's most violent criminals, it's probably one of the more realistic prison depictions I've seen, at least the one that feels most realistic to me.
Jack O'Connell in the leading role is phenomenal, as is the rest of the cast. O'Connell delivers an impressively layered performance, he reminds me of a more serious version of Bronson, the real-life character Tom Hardy plays in the Winding Refn movie. Bronson is more surreal and comedic in a way, while O'Connell plays a character who's certainly more relatable, with a backstory that unfolds perfectly throughout the film.
It also works as a commentary on how prison deals with inmates they consider dangerous, and how they don't care about the process of rehabilitation. Eric's quote says it best:
"I'm just saying. Said this therapy goes well and it changes my life and I rehabilitate. And then you lay it on for the next geezer and it works for him, and the next. And everything's sweet yeah? Crime rates starts to come down, police got less people to nick, courts got less people to convict. Pretty soon you're out of a job."
Starred Up is incredible, and I haven't felt this about a movie since Hunger. This is really up there when it comes to showing prison life in an uncompromisingly brutal way.