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El Heroob: Ramadan Revolution Drama
El Heroob (the escape) takes place just prior to the revolution, after the Khaled Said incident, and uses the political climate during that time to portray the story of a man who runs afoul of the state security.
Mahmoud (Abdel Aziz) is an engineer forced to work as a mechanic instead of a teaching assistant, due to his father’s ties to the unions and his younger brother’s participation in activist groups. While out illegally fishing with his friend, the boat they’re in blows up and they’re arrested under a trumped up charge of attempted assassination of the president who, to their bad luck, was visiting a factory in the area. The show portrays his time in prison, how he was coerced into complying with state security’s version of events, how activists on the outside mobilised to free him and how the injustice was so extreme that he barely had it in him to object, even after he was let out. You could say that the show is a reminder as to why the revolution was necessary and as to what led to the outburst.
The show's dialogue is a simple kind of great. It’s not flashy, nor does it call attention to itself but it tells you all you need to know in a manner highly befitting of each character. The show’s also quite heavy on the dialogue but it doesn’t feel dense or overly talky, thanks both to the writer and the cast.
Acting wise, Dalal Abdel Aziz walks away with the accolades; she steals every scene she’s in. She plays Mahmoud’s overly nervous, incredibly loving mother. Her character is an embodiment of love; a mama bear type that Abdel Aziz plays beautifully. Her character could have easily devolved into the show’s jester, but Abdel Aziz gives her so much dignity, that you’re laughing with not at her.
The rest of the cast is uniformly strong with Karim Abdel Aziz being the rare movie star this Ramadan not to rely much on his usual mannerisms. Of course to an extent they are there, but they’re not distracting and they don’t prevent us from buying him as his character.
El Heroob is the kind of drama that goes down easily. It’s very believable and it’s possibly the only show or film to tackle the revolution from this aspect. It shows how poverty imposes a different set of priorities on people no matter how much revolutionaries wish it weren’t, so while also showing the increased danger that the lower rim of society faces from state security when they do decide to take a stand. It's a 'damned if you do, damned if you don’t' scenario. Most impressive of all though, considering the subject matter, is that the show manages to stay pretty light and not overly serious.
Harrelson has a starry supporting cast backing him up made up of the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Ice Cube, Ben Foster and Robin Wright Penn. Brie Larson plays Dave’s daughter Helen, and after him, she’s the best thing about the film. The relationship between the two runs on hate and scorn mixed with a twisted kind of love. It brings to mind the saying about how blood is thicker than water. How you can hate a family member so much and see them for the worthless scum that they are, yet still allow their opinions and words to affect you. It’s a toxic relationship, one of many in the film, yet it packs a punch that the others don’t.
The story is occasionally difficult to keep track of as it jumps abruptly from one topic to another, but Dave’s internal conflict is more compelling than anything the story throws at you. Dave and Helen’s scenes together are far more powerful and infinitely more interesting than any of the scenes in which he brandishes a gun or kicks a guy to a bloody pulp. The film has some fine camera work; it forgoes flashiness just for the sake of it and instead focuses on bringing the viewer in closer to the actors. It works with the actors to set the scenes’ mood instead of just framing them.
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.