This brave, gut-wrenching, emotionally pummelling movie takes us into a world where violence and anger rule, and it’s powerful stuff.
The setting is an adult prison where young offender Eric (an amazing Jack O’Connell) is transferred (starred up) for violent behaviour. Eric is a mass (and a mess) of seething, barely contained anger, ready to pick a fight with anybody, be they fellow inmate or prison guard. He also takes exception to the fact his dad (an equally good Ben Mendelsohn) is inside too and Eric definitely has ‘father issues’ as he believes his old man – who has been in jail for much of Eric’s life – abandoned him and his family.
But, like father like son, it seems Eric is destined to become a serial offender too, and it is only the intervention of a young volunteer (Rupert Friend) running anger management sessions for the inmates, that keeps Eric from going off the rails. But not for long because Eric just can’t help erupting into acts of appalling violence and when he falls foul of a would-be Mr Big inside, all hell breaks loose.
For young Brit actor Jack O’Connell this is a career defining movie, with his bravura, breathtaking performance marking him out as a star. Without his mercurial presence, the really quite frightening and intimidating atmosphere the film generates would be diluted and less focused. Most human beings will never feel or express the terrifying levels of anger and violence that Eric seems to believe are perfectly normal and a natural part of every day life and they seem to exude from O‘Connell‘s pores as easily as sweat.
Director David Mackenzie, probably realising the audience would become exhausted if the violence was non-stop, cleverly counterpoises the action scenes with the grim, gritty reality of a life in clink, from its daily indignities to the dull institutionalised regime.
However, there’s nothing dull about this movie and even if some prison clichés creep in (good warden, bad warden and naked shower scene) and the ending feels contrived, Jack O’Connell’s performance is never less than utterly convincing and mesmerising.
No wonder he’s now the toast of Hollywood with a string of other film appearances this year. Watch out for him in the upcoming Unbroken and thriller 71.