Movie reviews: Starred Up

Starred Up ****

Movie reviews: Starred Up

There’s tough love, and then there’s Eric Love. Starred Up (16s) tells the story of young Eric Love (Jack O’Connell), a violent young offender who finds himself catapulted into the big leagues when his recidivist behaviour earns him a transfer to a prison for adults. Rather than being cowed by the tense atmosphere in which he finds himself, Eric seems to thrive on the aggression, actively seeking out opportunities to fight with other inmates. It’s his abrasive relationship with the prison hard-man Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), his father, that provides David Mackenzie’s drama with its narrative spine, while the clash in styles between Neville’s rudimentary parenting and the anger management therapy espoused by prison therapist Oliver (Rupert Friend) offers Eric options that will define the rest of his life. It sounds pretty straightforward, but despite the expected and regular outbursts of vicious brutality, Starred Up presents us with a number of complex and subtle relationships, all of them revolving around a variety of responses to threat, fear, intimidation and violence. Mackenzie convincingly recreates the nightmarish claustrophobia of prison life, centring it on a brilliantly ambivalent performance from O’Connell as a charismatic sociopath who is fully aware of how he has been shaped by his social conditioning. Mendelsohn and Friend, meanwhile, provide very strong support, with Friend playing a well-meaning therapist who is every bit as institutionalised as his charges, and Mendelsohn creepily believable as an old-lag lifer with nothing left to lose.

About Last Night (16s) also offers a number of interlocking relationships, as Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall) conspire to play cupid to their singleton friends, Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant). The original About Last Night (1986) — a film adaptation of David Mamet’s play Sexual Perversity in Chicago — centred on Danny and Debbie, but Steve Pink’s version moves the action away from Chicago to Los Angeles and gives both couples equal billing as they struggle to maintain their respective relationships. The tone is deliberately uneven, more raucous and vulgar when Bernie and Joan are exploring the limits of their love/hate dynamic, and much more sedate when the laidback Debbie fails to understand why Danny has a problem with commitment. In theory it should provide the audience with an intriguing clash in relationship styles, but in reality Danny and Debbie are the kind of unremarkably nice people you’d love to have as neighbours but never want to visit. The constant verbals between Bernie and Joan, meanwhile, give stand-up comedian Kevin Hart plenty of opportunity to run off his mouth in his trademark scattergun fashion, but very few of his barbs hit the target. It’s a solid, inoffensive remake that acknowledges its roots by lifting chunks of dialogue wholesale from the original, but it lacks the dark undertow that gave that movie its acid bite.

Yves Saint Laurent (15A) is a biopic about the iconic French fashion designer, which begins in the late 1950s, when Yves (Pierre Niney) goes to work for Christian Dior and meets the love of his life, Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne). Directed by Jalil Lespert, the film attempts to draw parallels between Saint Laurent’s personal and public lives, as the thin, bespectacled and intense young man who creates flawlessly formal classics for the Dior house blossoms into a wilder, less restrained artist who stamps his unique mark on the world of fashion, even as his personal life disintegrates. It’s a fabulously styled period film, but while the costumes have their own role to play, the actors are considerably more than mannequins. Niney is superb in the eponymous role, utilising a chaotic collection of tics and mannerisms as he creates a character who is as evasive as he is charming, while Gallienne provides the emotional ballast as the long-suffering Pierre, a man who sacrificed his own talents for the sake of the Yves Saint Laurent brand. Elsewhere, Laura Smet plays the smouldering Loulou, Saint Laurent’s muse and a lifelong thorn in his side, while Nikolai Kinski has great fun cavorting around as a young Karl Lagerfeld. All told, it’s an absorbing, beautifully rendered tale: you’ll come for the fashion but you’ll stay for the drama.

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