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Superb acting in this raw and brutally violent film

Drama. Starring Jack O'Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend, Sam Spruell, Sian Breckin, Peter Ferdinando Director: David Mackenzie Cert: 16

THE list of great British-made prison movies isn't exactly a long one. Certainly, 1979's Porridge wasn't bad and ranks as one of the best TV sitcom adaptations to make it to the big screen.

But then you have to factor in utter dross like Green Street 2 and the wretched Mean Machine remake (with Vinnie Jones as leading man, hardly a great sign to begin with) to drag the average closer to the floor. All of which leaves Alan Clarke's Scum as the daddy of them all.

Originally commissioned by the BBC in its Play for Today slot, Scum rattled the corporation with its portrayal of violent young men within the borstal system, to the extent that they banned and canned it, leaving author Ray Milton to persuade Clarke to remake it from scratch on a shoestring budget.

Stark and savage when it needed to be, it's to Scum that Starred Up owes much of its inspiration, and it doesn't disrespect its antecedent's influence.

Filmed in Belfast's redundant Crumlin Road Gaol, Starred Up is a claustrophobic and, at times, unbearably tense tale of a violent young offender, Eric Love (Jack O'Connell), sent to an adult institution two years early because of his behaviour.

What could have been a relatively straightforward story about a young man trying to cope in a dangerous new environment is given added heft by the presence of an older lifer, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who's given the task of keeping an eye on the volatile Eric, especially when we soon find out that Neville is the boy's father.

INFLUENCE

The dramatic possibilities are ramped up exponentially as traditional father-son struggles are exacerbated within the prison environment, with Neville feeling his influence over his offspring waning when Eric begins to nurture his own circle of influence, mainly through the inmates he meets in group counselling sessions run by the well-intentioned social worker Oliver (Rupert Friend).

The acting in Starred Up is superb, with Jack O'Connell (who'd previously been in This is England, Eden Lake and Skins and played Bobby Charlton in United) giving what should prove to be a career-changing performance as the dangerous but undeniably charismatic Eric. Ben Mendelsohn, meanwhile, is as magnetic as ever, having the swagger and thousand-yard stare that convinces you from the off that he's a main player in this brutal world.

Starred Up is as raw and viscerally violent as it surely needs to be. Director David Mackenzie's decision to dispense with an underlying musical soundtrack, only adding to the almost documentary feel as events unfold, adds to the film's massive, if uncomfortable, impact. You'll definitely behave yourself after you've seen this.

HHHHI

LABOR DAY

Drama. Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg, Tobey Maguire Director: Jason Reitman Cert :12A

WHEN a movie has been knocking about the release schedules for the best part of a year and finds itself almost apologetically released to the public in the post-Oscar wilderness of March, it's usually safe to assume that something went horribly wrong somewhere along the line. And, alas, despite the presence of top-of-the-range talent Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin and director Jason Reitman, that's exactly the case with Labor Day.

Based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day feels like something that was dredged from Nicholas Sparks' wastepaper bin, so utterly ludicrous is its premise and execution.

Narrated by the older Henry Wheeler (Tobey Maguire), the film takes us back to 1987 when young Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and his divorced mother Adele (Kate Winslet) experience a life-changing weekend.

At a local supermarket, Henry meets Frank (Josh Brolin) who, it turns out, happens to be a convicted murderer who's escaped from hospital and, er, persuades Adele to shelter him for a few hours.

The sheer stupidity of the storyline is mind-boggling as the reclusive Adele looks on in awe as Frank – convicted murderer on the run, remember – tidies up the yard, chops wood, cleans the gutters, changes the oil in her car, bakes a lovely peach pie and teaches the rather geeky Henry to throw a baseball.

What a man: oh, if only he weren't a convicted murderer on the run who's effectively holding them hostage.

Honestly, you have to feel for Winslet, Brolin and, particularly, young Griffith for doing their best with such a wrong-headed and staggeringly dumb piece of nonsense. HHIII

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

Comedy/drama. Starring Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Joy Bryant, Paula Patton Director: Steve Pink Cert: 15A

KEVIN Hart – dear God, will someone please make it stop? This is the third time in as many months we've had to endure this diminutive motormouth trying to convince us he's this generation's Eddie Murphy, and the schtick is now as tiring as it is unfunny.

He was bad in the atrocious Grudge Match, utterly unbearable in Ride Along and torturous in this feeble remake of the mid-80s Rob Lowe/Demi Moore vehicle, here retooled for an African-American demographic.

It's the story of two couples, bland and boring Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) and wild, zany (read: loud and obnoxious) Bernie (Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall) as their romances bloom, wither and rebloom over the course of a year.

Believe it or not, this muck was once a pretty decent David Mamet play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, only here all subtlety has been removed so that Hart can spew his usual vulgar sexual sludge all over proceedings. To be avoided at all costs. HIIII

ALSO RELEASED THIS WEEK: The Unknown Known (Cert IFI, HHHII) sees documentary-maker Errol Morris apply the same technique he did with Oscar-winning The Fog of War and attempt to get former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld (inset) to atone for his decades of wrongdoing.

Best of luck with that, Errol, but the film does offer a fascinating insight into the mind of a man who can still sleep at night knowing full well that he helped pursue a thoroughly illegal and unjustified war against Iraq.


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