Double Feature: Jack O’Connell – Special Features #72

A couple of weekends ago, I noticed that two films that had been on my watchlist for a very long time had been released on HBO Nordic. What these two films had in common was their lead actor. Both films featured British actor Jack O’Connell prominently. O’Connell is a BAFTA Award-winning young actor who I had previously only seen in the British horror flick Eden Lake, so I didn’t know a lot about him. Therefore I spent the weekend checking out both films to familiarize myself with one of Britain’s finest actors of his generation.

First I saw Yann Demange’s ’71, which is a very tense war drama set mostly in Belfast during the Northern Ireland conflict. It was thrilling and anxiety-inducing to follow O’Connell behind ‘enemy’ lines. It was definitely gripping from start to finish, and there were some very memorable moments, with the pub-scene possibly being the most noteworthy.

It was also very nice to see Barry Keoghan, who I was already a fan of, in a small but pivotal role. Was Keoghan’s character underwritten? Possibly. A tad. But my only major problems with the film were with the predictability of Keoghan’s character-arc and, most frustratingly, the overuse of distracting shaky-cam in some of the film’s tensest scenes. But I would definitely recommend this film to others. This was a great start to my weekend double feature.

Then I watched David Mackenzie’s Starred Up with Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend, and, you guessed it, Jack O’Connell. This is a prison drama about a violent nineteen-year-old inmate who, following a violent spat with prison guards, is entered into therapy with fellow inmates. And, as if that wasn’t difficult enough, O’Connell’s character has been locked up in the same place where his dad, played by Ben Mendelsohn, is imprisoned, which, as you can imagine, leads to some difficulties and arguments.

This O’Connell performance is leaps and bounds more impressive than his performance in Demange’s film, which was really more of a physical performance where there wasn’t much of a character to get to know. In Starred Up, he gives an outstanding performance as a damaged character, and his relationship with his father is increasingly engrossing until it reaches a moving fever pitch towards the end of the film.

Mendelsohn’s final line of dialogue is picture-perfect. Ben Mendelsohn, like O’Connell, also delivers a sublime performance here. Rupert Friend was very good as well, but as these two films were my introduction, of sorts, to O’Connell, I was more interested in his work. I don’t think this is David Mackenzie’s most accessible film, but it is great, and I definitely recommend it. Oh, and O’Connell? If these two performances are anything to go by, then his potential as an actor is enormous.

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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