Top positive review
O’Connell Excels Again
on 27 April 2016
David Mackenzie’s brutally realistic depiction of the dehumanising environment existing in modern-day prisons and the valiant attempts at rehabilitation makes for an absorbing (and eventually rather moving) watch, as well as perhaps providing something of a case study for Justice Minister Michael Gove (the storyline having been based on the real-life experience of ‘prison therapist’ Jonathan Asser, who also wrote the screenplay for Mackenzie’s film)! Mackenzie is certainly uncompromising in his depiction of the claustrophobic, anarchic, corrupt and (endlessly) violent prison regime into which Jack O’Connell’s 'starred up’ (i.e. 'promoted’ from 'borstal’ to adult prison) prisoner, Eric Love, finds himself ensconced, with all the associated macho kudos as a 'marked man’.
O’Connell is a rising star of British cinema (equally compelling in the Northern Irish troubles drama, ’71) and here, again, he is the class act on show, mixing bouts of violent volatility, cocky humour and (eventually) 'reluctant’ humanity, very impressively. Almost as impressive is Ben Mendelsohn, subtly introduced to us as Eric’s (past) neglectful father and now fellow inmate, Neville. Mendelsohn, who was superb in the Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom, is again impressive (if a little less restrained) here, even if he struggles more than Derby-born O’Connell to (convincingly) master the 'cockney geezer’ accent. The theme of rehabilitation is central to Mackenzie’s film, which nicely plays up the class differences between Eric and Rupert Friend’s ('Oxfordshire’) prison therapist and do-gooder, Oliver Baumer, and the group therapy sessions provide some of the film’s most engaging (and less predictable) moments. Mackenzie’s film skilfully examines the (increasingly positive) impact of the rehabilitation on Eric, affecting his relationship with his father and provoking reaction from the corrupt prison authorities (amongst whom Sam Spruell impresses as the callous prison governor).
Whilst Mackenzie’s film is certainly not for the faint-hearted and does not always entirely convince, it eventually morphs into quite a perceptive and moving drama, as well as, in O’Connell, showcasing one of the UK cinema’s most promising acting talents.