Eric Love (O'Connell) is a 19 year old teenager who is so violent he has been 'Starred Up' (Moved to Adult prison) where he finds his father Neville (Mendelsohn) who Eric hasn't seen since ... See full summary »
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A young British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a terrifying riot on the streets of Belfast in 1971. Unable to tell friend from foe, the raw recruit must survive the night alone and find his way to safety through a disorienting, alien and deadly landscape.
'War is hell', many films have made such a statement about the nature of war, and thankfully '71 is decidedly in the 'War is hell' camp. What '71 adds is how disorienting and confusing war can be. Set in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1971, the film portrays the brutality of guerrilla warfare through the eyes of a single soldier; Gary Cook (played by Jack O'Connell).
We are introduced to Cook as a British recruit whose training is cut short due to the immediate need for more men on the battle lines. Shortly after his regiment is sent out on a mission to 'reassure the people', a riot breaks out and Cook finds himself cut off from his group and behind enemy lines. Worse yet, a particularly blood-thirsty faction of the IRA are on his tail. Cook is terrified and alone and O'Connell portrays this brilliantly in an almost wordless performance.
'71 never spells anything out to the audience, and the result is baffling and effective. In the film there are essentially three groups; The British faction that Cook was once a part of, the IRA faction attempting to catch Cook, and finally Cook and the people who help him. However, the lines between the three groups are not as defined as they might appear. The British faction that is attempting the rescue mission has to rely on Irish inside men, some of whom may be part of the IRA group attempting to capture Cook. It is also unclear whose side the men who help Cook are on, are they simply being generous or is their intent more malicious? For the most part, the audience shares his confusion, as many of the character's true allegiances are left unanswered for the majority of the film.
The debut feature from TV veteran Yann Demange, '71 is a showcase of great things to come. A tight thriller with an almost minimalist aesthetic, the film works breathlessly, and during the action set pieces, the film soars. The action is shot often down long narrow corridors using hand held cameras while the throbbing soundtrack adds to the tension, a stylistic cross between Paul Greengrass and John Carpenter.
The only stumble of the film is undoubtedly its climax, a single fault in an otherwise flawless screenplay by Gregory Burke. It is the one moment the film feels forced, the result a reminder that what we are watching is a movie. It's a shame because, until that moment, the characters decisions have felt so natural and organic. However, this is a small quibble, and one that will likely be forgiven by those caught up in the action.
'71 is a highly engrossing and entertaining film and Jack O'Connell gives a performance not to be missed. It is unfortunate that there hasn't been any attempt made to advertise the film, which is surely to account for its currently disappointing run in theatres. My girlfriend and I saw it opening weekend and were the only people in the theatre, hopefully it will have more success on DVD and Blue ray.
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