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Junkhearts: Redemption Drama Marred by Shoddy Storytelling
Junkhearts is about guilt and redemption. Frank (Marsan), an ex-soldier, drinks himself into a drunken stupor every day to escape from his past. As a young officer, he accidently killed a woman and her baby; an incident that has since wracked him with guilt and tearing apart his family who he hasn’t seen since. He meets Lynette (Reid), a teen runaway on and takes it upon himself to save her from the street. He gives her a room in his house, feeds her, buys her clothes and gives her pocket money. Lynette, who has an attitude and gratitude problem, ends up practically inviting her good for nothing boyfriend, Danny (Sturridge), to move in with them.
As Danny’s drugs and arms dealing world come crashing down around him, Lynette and Frank get unwittingly sucked in and end up having to shoulder the consequences of Danny’s criminal ways. Frank, as a way of doing penance for his accidental murders, takes it upon himself to save Lynette from both Danny and herself.
Junkhearts is quite beautiful visually and features some pretty striking editing, especially when Frank is being haunted by his memories. In addition to strong acting all-round -by Marsan in particular- that’s pretty much all there is to recommend the film. His turn as, what is essentially a zombie, is heartbreaking and as a result, the film lags whenever he isn’t on screen. He beautifully portrays the agony of living under such a heavy burden and he’s able to squeeze so much out of his encounters with the owner of the corner shop and a fisherman that he passes on his daily walks.
Unfortunately, Marsan’s strong turn as Frank isn’t enough to save this film. In fact, no amount of world class acting could have saved a story as shoddy and as incomprehensible as this. Garai’s arc, as Frank’s estranged daughter, could quite easily have been deleted. She appears for a few moments in the first half then disappears, only to show up again in the very last scene.. Reid’s character has no rhyme or reason and fluctuates between entitled brat and helpless little girl. And while Reid does the best that could possibly have been done with her character, it’s still impossible to understand the character’s motivations.
Junkhearts is very depressing. It’s also wildly infuriating both due to the amateurish storytelling and due to the fact that a performance as brilliant as Marsan’s was wasted on a film like this.
The first half focuses far too much on Kelsey and Lynette and not enough on say, Rebecca Hall who plays Alan’s sister Mel. In fact, the film in general is pretty light on Hall and she just randomly drops out of the film without having her arc tied up, even though she’s the most magnetic performer in the whole thing. Canterbury, on the other hand, has far too big a part and while he’s decent as Kelsey, his pouting does become a bit one-note after a while.
The second half is, thankfully, far superior, mainly because Alan and Ben grow out of their immaturity and are forced to make some big decisions that shed some light on their relationship and back story. This is also where Sandvig and Ritter’s chemistry shines. They really nail the old friends dynamic and it stretches and warps as a wedge is driven between them, challenging their entire way of life.
Titled from a popular term which describes the early transfer of a young offender from a juvenile detention facility to an adult penitentiary, Starred Up is by no means an easy watch. However, as much as it is difficult to digest at times, there is a certain poetic beauty behind its seemingly violent and destructive quality that makes it difficult to look away from.
Shot within the walls of an abandoned Belfast prison, the film opens with troubled nineteen-year-old Eric Love (O’Connell) undergoing an embarrassing admittance process, involving a complete body strip down, as he’s transferred into an adult reformatory.
Immediately marked as a “single cell, high risk” type detainee, it doesn’t take long for Eric – whose frequent and violent outbursts got him relocated there in the first place – to stir up trouble and make enemies both with fellow inmates and security guards.
After a mistaken attack on another inmate lands the young delinquent into the disciplinary hands of the law, Eric is soon approached – and rescued – by the in-house therapist, Oliver Braumer (Friend), who believes that he can help the young man rehabilitate.
Unfortunately, getting to the root of Eric’s problems - and getting him to open up - is no easy task and Oliver - together with the other rehabilitating convicts - often find themselves the targets of both verbal and physical abuse. To top it off, Eric has to find a way to learn to share the walls of his new confinements with his estranged father, Nev (Mendelsohn), who is currently serving a life-sentence in the same prison.
Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser – a former prison psychotherapist whose own experience with the British penal-system adds a hefty dose of authenticity and realism to the film – Starred Up, told through a series of wordless and violent expositions, is fuelled with gripping intensity which is hard to shake off. Relying on action, rather than words, the uniqueness – and the heart - of the story lies with the father-son narrative, whose bonding difficulties are depicted through the oppressiveness of life in prison.
Contributing to the movie’s relentless and uncompromising approach to despair and violence, O’Connell – mostly known for his role in the British TV-series Skins and recently seen as the lead in Angelina Jolie’s war-drama Unbroken – is an absolute standout; feral and unpredictable, his performance carries the film, while Mendelsohn is equally superb as a man whose persona and motives are seemingly hard to read.
Powerful, emotional but never too sentimental, Starred Up is a true British-prison drama classic whose quietly yielding power and passion for storytelling will leave you feeling captivated and moved.