Channel 4’s teen drama Skins is turning into something of a star factory, like Neighbours was in the early 90s. Nicholas Hoult has appeared in massive superhero franchises, Dev Patel headlined an Oscar-winning film, and second generation Skins lad Jack O’Connell is now showing himself to be a star in the making.
His turn in this new British prison drama finds him in fine, explosive form as young offender Eric. Transferred to a maximum security adult prison, he quickly reveals himself to be a capable and violent inmate. He melts his toothbrush and combines it with a smashed-up Bic razor to make an effective weapon. He even hides this shiv in a lighting fixture that he’s accessed by MacGyvering himself a screwdriver. The kid’s only 19, but he’s already very resourceful and incredibly vicious.
His father, as we learn, is a long-term resident of this facility and the most feared man on the block. And like any absent father, he’s looking to make up for lost time – even if he’s emotionally unequipped to do so. As played by Ben Mendelsohn (the Australian character actor from Animal Kingdom and The Place Beyond the Pines who’s quickly becoming a favourite of ours), he shows that the apple never falls far from the tree – he’s a small man, made tough by a quick temper and facility for violence.
Over the course of the film, we pick up bits and pieces about his character’s history: his mother’s early death and his father’s lengthy incarceration means that for most of his youth, he’s been living at Her Majesty’s pleasure in one way or another.
He attends group sessions led by a privileged former public schoolboy with a conscience (Rupert Friend), he becomes mates with a few of the other inmates and he also gets into a load of graphic scraps.
The film is best when it shows the ins and outs of prison life: the boring day-to-day stuff turns out to be a lot more interesting than some of the overarching plots. The sections with the group counselling feel like they’re desperately grasping for social epiphanies while the inclusion of a corrupt moustache-twirling warden doesn’t really belong in this movie at all. There is a solid amount of craft behind Starred Up but ultimately, the film is let down by an unambitious, mediocre script. Fortunately, the acting from O’Connell and Mendelsohn is strong enough to shoulder the weight.
Soon to be seen in the sequel to 300 as well as Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, it won’t be long before O’Connell is lost to Hollywood forever – so you better check him out now while you still have the chance!
Starred Up will be playing at the London Film Festival tonight and tomorrow.
Buy tickets here!