’71 (2014)

71Expecting to be deployed to Germany, Private Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) of the British Army is instead dispatched to Belfast on an emergency basis. When a riot erupts during a routine search on Falls Road and a soldier is taken down by a projectile, Hook is ordered to pursue a young boy who has acquired the man’s gun. In the ensuing chaos, Lt. Armitage (Sean Reid) calls for his men to retreat, leaving Hook and a comrade stranded and exposed. He manages to escape from the mob shortly after his companion is shot dead, hiding out in a garden privy until nightfall, at which point he sets out alone in search of his barracks. The other soldier’s execution, however, has strained relations between the Official and Provisional IRA, both of whom have now made it their mission to find the survivor before he can reuinite with his regiment.

Backed by Film4 and Screen Yorkshire, penned by a Scottish playwright and directed by French first-timer Yann Demange, ’71 was always going to be an outside look at The Troubles of Northern Ireland. It was a complex, confused and critical period in the nation’s history, and Gregory Burke manages to capture the essence of it without going into too much detail or making his film explicitly about the conflict. A briefing at the film’s outset outlines the situation, effectively setting the scene and establishing the stakes, before shrinking its focus to concentrate almost exclusively on Hook and the unique set of obstacles that stand in his way. Context is completely inconsequential; all that matters is that there is a man behind enemy lines, out of his depth and in mortal danger.

Skins and Starred Up actor Jack O’Connell stars as Private Hook in what might be his most impressive performance to date. Although he has clearly come a long way since his (already acclaimed) debut in Shane Meadows’ This Is England, he has fostered a screen image that has so far produced few significant deviations. ’71, on the other hand, sees the actor leave his days of teenage delinquency and petty thievery behind. He’s a man, a soldier, a guardian, and — for perhaps the first time in his extant filmography — is essentially a good guy. He’s as compelling and charismatic as ever, only this time there’s a vulnerability to his character that makes him sympathetic too. It’s thanks to this newly responsible persona — and not through any melodramatic manipulations on the filmmakers’ behalves — that you desperately want to see Gary Hook survive his ordeal.

Demange doesn’t make things easy for his protagonist, throwing terrorists, bombs and corruption in his way as the situation continues to deteriorate. The action, which kicks off almost immediately upon Hooks arrival and doesn’t let up until things finally come to a head at a tower block caught between competing factions, is both blistering and breathless — particularly at its outset as Hook is chased through side streets and over walls as his pursuers take pot shots behind him. Even in the film’s few moments of relatively calm there is the unshakeable sense that something horrible is about to happen — as Gary is lead to safety by a young loyalist (a scene-stealing Corey McKinley) or nursed back to health by a sympathetic ex-serviceman (Richard Dormer). Acts of brutality are perpetrated by everyone, regardless of age, religion or political affiliation, and Gary receives beatings from them all at various points throughout the narrative.

’71 shoots first and asks questions later, preferring to pursue its wounded protagonist through derelict streets rather than chase elusive answers through the mists of time. Half thriller and half anxiety attack, Demange’s exceptionally visceral debut will leave you vicariously battered and bruised.

4-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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